18 Feb What is happiness?
What is happiness?
Please enjoy my latest Body + Soul column which went to print yesterday.
In essence, I’m a relatively simple man so I thought it might be a good idea to begin at the beginning; and one of the questions I seem to have been asked a lot in recent years is “What is happiness?”
Now this might seem like an overly simple question but it is an incredibly important one; because if we can’t answer this question and define happiness then what chance do we have of achieving happiness? And despite the fact that almost everyone I meet acknowledges that they’d like to be happier very few people have ever sat down and really thought about what happiness meansê¢__‘Ô_for them.
In this week’s column I’m pleased to offer you my definition of happiness but if you re-read the previous sentence carefully you’ll hopefully notice (if you didn’t already notice it the first time round) the two final words (ê¢__‘Ô_for them). You see although I can define happiness for you in general terms it’s vitally important that each and every one of you considers how you would define it personally and specifically; because we’re all different and ultimately, happiness will mean different things to different people.
Nevertheless, with this in mind, happiness for me and my team at The Happiness Institute is a term that covers a range of positive emotions with the exact combination different for different people. For some, the experience of happiness is one of predominately “high arousal” feelings such as joy and excitement; for others, it involves more “low arousal”, but equally important, positive emotions such as calm, contentment, peace and tranquillity.
Ideally, we should all try to experience and enjoy all these different forms of positive emotions but the reality is that some people will tend more to the high arousal end of the spectrum (e.g. those who’re more extroverted) while others (e.g. those who are more introverted) might be more likely to seek out low arousal forms of happiness.
The bottom line is it’s about finding what’s right for you. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way of experiencing happiness, nor do I think anyone should expect to be 100% happy 100% of the time. Finding true happiness involves recognising that as humans it’s perfectly normal to experience the full range of emotions including so called “negative” ones such as depression, anger, sadness, anxiety and stress.
They key to finding happiness in life is to maximise the positive emotions and then respond to the negative emotions appropriately and effectively so that they don’t unduly or excessively worry you and that they don’t persist for too long. Where possible, it’s also important to try to learn from unpleasant and difficult circumstances as this can actually enhance happiness in the long term.
In my experience, too many people have too narrow a definition of happiness and that as such they limit their opportunities to experience the full spectrum of positive emotions to which I just referred. By broadening your definition of happiness you can, accordingly, open up new and wonderful opportunities to be happier more often.
In most, if not all of my columns I plan to provide you with an exercise or practical tip to try out and this week’s activity is to list as many positive emotion words or descriptors or phrases as you can think of. Then add to this list whenever you think of new or additional positive emotions or colours within the happiness spectrum.
Is it possible that you’re experiencing happiness more than you thought you were?