What Is Happiness?
"Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling." – Margaret Runbeck, American author, teacher and humanitarian (1905-1956)
Ask anyone the definition of happiness and we’ll get different answers. For some, defining happiness has more to do with how they feel at the moment, whether they got up feeling terrific or were already late getting out of bed and their whole day is a matter of catching up. We are colored by our surroundings, by the weather, by the changing seasons, even by our digestion.
Does this mean that happiness is too tough to get our arms around, to come to some consensus as to what it really is?
The good news is that we’re all unique. That means that there doesn’t need to be a single definition of happiness. If there were, life would be exceedingly boring. We’d all have the same goals, do the same things, and talk the same way. Life would be tedious, indeed.
By having our own unique take on life, shaped by the events and decisions we each make, and imbued with hopes and dreams and successes and failures we’ve each encountered, we are blessed to be able to discern what happiness means to us.
One constant that we should keep in mind is that happiness isn’t a destination. In that, it’s like recovery, which is also not a place we arrive at. Happiness and recovery are what happens in process. Happiness occurs along the way as we’re engaged in living life. Recovery is a process that involves taking action that is ongoing and ever-changing.
It’s far better, then, to look at happiness as a way of living or, as Margaret Runbeck mused, "a manner of traveling."
Think about others we know in our lives, whether they are with us in the rooms or at home or our co-workers or boss or best friends. What do we think happiness means to them? Could they tell us in a simple sentence what happiness feels like? Do we think that any one of their definitions of happiness would be alike? True, they may be similar, but they aren’t going to be the same.
Some will define happiness as having enough money or physical possessions. But that is focusing on material things and happiness isn’t contained in how much you have in your wallet or how many precious items you stock in your pantry or the quality of furniture in your home. Others will tell us that happiness is never going hungry, or having a loving family or realizing the career of their dreams. And they’re not wrong to ascribe these to happiness. These ways of looking at happiness are probably closer to the root of happiness in that they fill us with good feelings.
But rather than try to figure out what happiness is, we may be better served to just live our lives to the best of our ability today. Instead of worrying about what tomorrow may or may not bring, do our best to do good today. Give of ourselves, for that is far more likely to result in a feeling of self-satisfaction and contentment than if we selfishly pursue personal gain or recognition.
In fact, we should stop trying to figure out if we’re happy and just live our lives. After all, if we’re on a train traveling somewhere, we can’t see the destination. If we’re so concerned about the end-point, we’ll miss the journey. Happiness is something we should be feeling along the way, rather than a goal that we’re anxious to attain.
So, the next time someone asks us what happiness is, or if we’re happy, we can count our blessings and smile enigmatically or we could say, "Happiness is the opportunity to live, and I’m happy to be alive." Or, put it in some other words that are meaningful to us. Just don’t keep searching for happiness. Experience it every day in the little things in life.