What does it mean to be happy, and how can I make strides towards achieving my own happiness?
It is written in the second paragraph of the U.S. constitution “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Considering the context of this excerpt, it suggests that the colonialists who founded the United States felt that being free from British rule would lead to their ability to pursue happiness.
Though individuals in the United States may not concern themselves with being free from British rule anymore, we do continue to question what it means to pursue happiness. What this example should illustrate is that the path to becoming happy is very different for many of us. While being freed from colonial rule may make one person feel happy, another person may report that they feel happy simply because they are enjoying their favorite ice cream at the moment! The same term “happiness” is used even in these widely varying situations.
But surely, there must be things in the world that make us universally happy. Wouldn’t people choose to be healthy over being sick, or prefer to have more money than less money? Or even just prefer to simply indulge in more pleasurable activities than less pleasurable ones?
Contrary to popular belief, the answer to these questions according to current understanding is… not exactly. Achieving happiness is not simply based on the absence of disease, which surprisingly is a relatively new way to approach happiness compared to older philosophies. While diseases obviously do not make people feel happy, it is also important to consider components of our lives that need nourishment even without disease. These include having close relationships, having positive emotions, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and more.
It is also not contingent on how much wealth someone has accumulated. Though not always true, it is possible that the demands of accumulating that wealth could actually stand in the way of the person working on their overall well-being.
And pleasure, though it can contribute to happiness and relieve suffering, is not the only component of happiness.
The common denominators of people who are happy are actually somewhat more surprising than what we would originally postulate. First, the people are almost always more sociable, though the studies are correlational and causation is not firmly established as of now. Still, this is an interesting observation to note, and could perhaps be because they gain their happiness from seeing joy in other people. This could help to free them from any possible negative cognitions they are having about themselves, which would be a step in the right direction towards their own happiness.
Another more notable observation though is that people who are more happy experience high levels of engagement by using their talents to the best of their ability. Marty Seligman uses the term “flow” to describe people who are using their talents in this way to benefit something larger than themselves. For those who have experienced flow, it is an incredible experience where time seems to stop and a sense of meaning is achieved. One conclusion that can be drawn from this is that happiness through engagement is going to look different between a lot of people depending on their talents. Someone who is talented physically may experience flow through working on a demanding project using their hands, while someone who is talented intellectually may experience flow through reading and writing, or even through a spirited debate! Applying the intellect to the job of the physically gifted person and vice versa would probably not be good for them to experience flow because of the way that their talents are being used. Therefore, it is relevant to consider a person’s talents and how they are being used in order to experience high levels of engagement in an activity. When this is done properly, it is correlated to higher levels of well-being.
In conclusion, the idea of happiness is different between people. It is also not just the absence of disease, or having lots of money and/or material things. In general, however, people using their talents to the best of their ability is one way in which happy people differ from the rest of the average population. Here is a great link to learn more about what I have written about today:
If there is one thing I would like you readers to do after reading this article, it is to reflect on what your genuine talents are, and ask yourself whether you currently have an outlet to use those talents or not. If so, then great, keep it up! And if not, consider ways in which you can use your talents to benefit the rest of the world. Thanks for reading, and good luck in your own pursuit of happiness!