If I asked you and your neighbor to define happiness right now, the two answers would probably be wildly different.
Why is that? What is happiness really? Is it a feeling, a state of mind or just an emotion?
What initially looks like a very simple question turns out to be one of the hardest questions out there.
How can happiness be defined?
Eternal happiness doesn’t exist
First things first: It’s impossible to be happy all the time.
Even the happiest person alive has been unhappy at some point. Sadness is a vital emotion that we can’t turn off. Even if we could, we shouldn’t want to. We experience sadness in our lives in order to better appreciate and be grateful for the happy times in our lives.
It’s therefore good to understand that this blog is not about how to be happy for the rest of your life. It’s about how to be happy as often as possible.
I don’t believe we can all be eternally happy, but I do believe we can purposefully steer our lives in the happiest direction as possible. That’s what this guide is about.
How to define what happiness means to you
Here’s how happiness is defined according to Google:
Happiness is the state of being happy
Is this the answer you need? I’m going to assume that it’s not.
If I asked you and your neighbor to define happiness right now, the two answers would probably be wildly different. Why is that? What is happiness really? Is it a feeling, a state of mind or just an emotion? What initially looks like a very simple question turns out to be one of the hardest questions out there. How can happiness be defined?
What I want you to realize is that your personal definition of happiness is unique. What makes you happy doesn’t necessarily make another person happy. In fact, your definition of happiness even changes over time. There is no universally agreed-upon definition of happiness.
You have to define your own definition. What makes you happy is as unique as yourself.
I even asked 11 experts about what happiness means to them and got 11 completely different answers!
Be aware of the difference between long-term and short-term happiness
This is a big one.
A lot of people spend their lives not knowing what the difference is between long-term happiness and short-term happiness.
I want you to picture some scenarios.
- Picture a life in which you spent your youth partying, doing whatever you want to do, using drugs and living life as is, without planning for a better future. Sure, you feel pretty happy when doing these things, but you can probably see how this lifestyle will eventually catch up with you, right?
You might have guessed it, but this scenario is focused exclusively on short-term happiness. It’s a fact that pursuing nothing but short-term happiness does not lead to a sustainable happy life.
Now picture the following scenario:
- You’re in your early twenties and want to become the next Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. You have great ambitions and are incredibly disciplined and inspired to become everything that you think you can become. You spend an incredible amount of time working on your projects, and you even make sacrifices just for the sake of your goals. You don’t have time for sleep, social activities or relationships. Hell, even your health starts to decline. It doesn’t matter though, because you eventually want to reach your goals, and then you’ll be happy, right?
This is another extreme example of happiness. You can probably see how this person is very likely unhappy. He is spending the best years of his life making sacrifices in anticipation of what he eventually wants to become. For a lot of people, this sounds like a logical decision. But to me, this sounds like a huge mistake. You might feel satisfied with the progress you’re making, but are you truly happy? If you were to get in a fatal car crash tomorrow, would you have any regrets?
Happiness now vs. happiness later
The thing is, these extreme examples are not something that you should want. You can only lead a truly happy life when you actively pursue both short-term and long-term happiness.
It’s important to find out what your perfect balance is.
I’m not here to tell you that you should focus 50% of your attention on short-term happiness and the other 50% on long-term happiness. No. I’m here to tell you that you should be aware of your own happiness. Every single person on this planet has a different definition of happiness. You need to find out what happiness means to you, and how you want to pursue it.
They say happiness is a journey and not a destination. I think happiness can – and should – be both.
Why does happiness not last forever?
The hedonic treadmill…
If this term is new for you, here’s what it comes down to:
Imagine something that you would really like to do right now.
What did you think of? Taking a long warm bath? Drinking wine with your friends? Going to an amusement park?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that right now? That would definitely have a positive influence on your happiness, right?
Now think about doing that exact thing every day, for the rest of your life, until the day you die.
Do you think you’d still be happy from doing that same thing after the 10th time? Or the 100th time? Or the 1000th time?
The answer is probably no. Even though this example is extreme, the theory of diminishing returns applies here. When repeated, the effect of the same event on your happiness will diminish to zero. That’s because the norms of what defines your happiness are constantly adapting.
Your happiness equation transforms with your changing life, whether it’s for better or worse.
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 6 years.