In an article by Acacia Parks, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Hiram College who studies happiness, while its definition for scientific purposes is still emerging, she believes we can be sure that it is NOT about feeling good all the time, getting everything we want all the time, and it's not a state of being that we'll reach and stay at. Meaning, if we do things in just the right way for long enough, we'll reach a stage of happiness that will last forever. That last one is difficult to drink in particularly because we have been conditioned through media images and popular story lines to believe that there is a chance to "live happily ever after."
Parks' definition of happiness includes a combination of how satisfied we are with our life--does it have meaning for us--and how good we feel on a day-to-day basis--our pleasant emotional states.
I have to wholeheartedly agree with Parks that it is not about feeling good all of the time. My happiness didn't even start to blossom and grow consistently until after I learned to be present and accepting of all my emotions and mindfully finding my way through the inevitable difficulties of life. Until then, I was just trying to control it all so I wouldn't feel the bad stuff and in doing that I never had a moment of authenticity where I even had the chance to experience happiness.
Positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” Wikipedia defines it as a "mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy."
These are great definitions of happiness and Lyubomirsky's research has concluded that about half of our happiness is determined by our genes, 10 percent by our life circumstance and a whopping 40 percent depends on our daily activities. This is an astonishing discovery and speaks to our capacity to build and grow happiness in for ourselves.
(Yes, we have the capacity to grow our happiness, which will be a topic of another post.)
There are many definitions of happiness, most including experiencing positive emotions and outlook on life. How do YOU define happiness?
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and the forthcoming Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom