The concept of happiness

What is happiness?

Happiness is one of those traits which is described as both a mental and emotional state. For example, you can mentally be happy at an event or for someone else while your overarching mood is sad. However, being happy is also an emotional state where we feel genuine joy coursing through us. It is often hard to capture happiness and to bottle it. However, the state can lead to higher levels of contentment, which is something that is more sustainable in the longer term. Of course, it is an entirely subjective matter, and what makes one person happy may be very different from how someone else might think about it.

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 Why does happiness matter?

 Being happy is good for us even if, under most thought systems about human beings, we all face levels of unhappiness in life to go with the good times. In short, it is the absence of happiness that would really matter. This is because, if we never felt the emotion at all, we would only be able to be mentally, or intellectually, happy and derive it only from empathy. Of course, this is only to look at the issue from one's own point of view. In many people's philosophies, the idea about happiness is to share it and engender it in others with positivity and kindness not to seek it for oneself. This is a central plank in many of the world's major religions, for example.

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How does happiness help your health?

Some studies have linked being happy with being healthier. Happiness is more likely to be reported by people as an emotional state they feel regularly when, for example, their dietary intake is balanced, and they are getting better sleep and do enough sports and physical activity. Of course, being happy is also linked to improved mental health. Although it is perfectly possible for someone with anxiety to feel happy from time to time, for instance, more frequent bouts of happiness are linked with better mental well-being. Indeed, it can help with concentration and productivity, aspects of the human psyche which are associated with good mental health.

Can happiness lead to confidence?

It is true that people who are generally more contented tend to feel an upturn in their level of self-confidence compared to those who are more discontented. However, there is no really good scientific data that says more happiness will have precisely the same result. That being said, people who report greater confidence in surveys also tend to state that they feel happier, while lower confidence oftentimes correlates to a lower level of happiness. So the two states of mind definitely do appear to be linked in some way as a result of the positive feelings they bring about in us.

How can happiness be explained psychologically?

According to Maslow's famous pyramid, the hierarchy of needs, people require routes to fulfilment to truly be able to feel happy. Moments of love, connection, understanding, social acceptance and achievement can only occur when all of these basic human needs are being met. When they are met, we are psychologically happier than when they are not. To some psychologists, this means being autonomous in our decision-making, too. Our progress in moving up in Maslow's pyramid is often interrupted because a need in one of the lower levels isn't being fulfilled. Life will throw things at us, making us move back and forth between different levels.

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Why is happiness important?

Happiness is commonly defined as an internal relationship people have with a variety of mental and emotional states. It is hard to pin down exactly what feeling happy is, but most people recognise it when they feel it simply because it makes them feel good. In other words, some people will be happy when they feel content in their current situation, but others will report they feel that way when they are experiencing more intense sensations of joy or euphoria. Therefore, happiness should be seen as an umbrella term for all of the positive sensations associated with being human. In short, without being able to be happy – for some of the time, at least – there would be something lacking from the human experience. Trying to be happy for its own sake may be less important to many people, however. This is because the sensations that make us happy often come about when we are doing something else, achieving a sense of satisfaction or flow. Indeed, sometimes the importance of being happy is only really recognised in retrospect when we take a moment to look back and take stock of our lives.

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What does happiness look like?

From a biochemical point of view, happiness is a brain state whereby neurotransmitters in the cerebral cortex are triggered. It is possible to observe this physically because it means that certain proteins will move around in the body, pushing and pulling endorphins along. In other words, although it goes on at a microscopic level, being happy is possible to view in a mechanistic sense. However, what most people would recognise as being happy when viewing it are the behavioural responses that are associated with it. The key one that humans have is smiling, of course. Tipping the head back when laughing is another sign of being happy as would adopting a more open posture. Animals, too, display signs of being happy, such as when horses frolic, when dogs wag their tails and when cats purr.

Are happiness and pleasure the same thing?

No, they are not. Although some people will often say that they feel pleasure when they are happy and consequently use the two terms interchangeably, they ought to be understood as distinct phenomena. Look at it this way – if you are exposed to a pleasurable stimulus, then you will soon react to it with certain responses. You might feel relaxed, excited or even loving. Once the body begins to behave in certain ways as a response to pleasure, so the aforementioned pleasure endorphins will begin to move around the brain. In turn, this is what will lead to sensations of happiness. So, being pleased can lead to being happy. However, you can feel that you are happy without necessarily being exposed to pleasurable stimuli. You might just remember something that makes you feel happy, for example. As such, happy sensations are often – but not exclusively – felt as a result of pleasure, but they are not the same as one another.

Can happiness be measured scientifically?

As you have already learned, it is theoretically possible to observe the biochemical responses in the brain that lead to feeling happy. Although this is practically difficult because it would mean significant brain surgery to allow such observations to take place, this is not the only problem with making quantitative scientific measurements about happiness. This is because people respond to different stimuli in very individual ways. So, one person with a measurable amount of happy endorphins running around their brain may say they feel more or less happy than someone else with just the same biochemical exposure. In other words, the whole business of how happy we are comes down to people's opinion of themselves. Like other emotive states, therefore, scientists use self-reporting techniques to assess the levels of happiness people feel. These are prone to potential errors and outlier responses so psychological researchers will often use very simple self-reporting mechanisms and large sample groups to even out any such deviations.

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Where does happiness exist around the world?

There are now numerous indices for measuring the happiest populations around the globe. Although several quantitative measurements are used to assess different countries, such as levels of poverty and so on, qualitative ones are also employed. These tend to be the aforementioned self-reporting techniques that are taken from a sample of a local population. Many of the happiest places in the world are in Europe. Scandinavian countries often do very well in such internationally recognised reports. Finland and Denmark top the current list with Switzerland coming in the top five alongside Iceland and Norway. New Zealand is one of the few happy countries to score consistently well that is outside of Western Europe. As of 2020, the UK was in thirteenth place while the United States was ranked at number 18.

How does happiness relate to personal development?

There is a link between happiness and personal growth and development. Essentially, this is a two-way street where one aspect of a person's life will assist the other. In other words, the happier someone feels – especially about themselves – the more likely they are to try and push themselves in some way. This might come down to career progression, being more engaged with friends and a href="https://www.happiness.com/family-activities/">family activities or from simply studying and exploring the world more. Equally, those people who see more personal development in their lives from such activities are more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in what they are doing. In turn, this can lead to feeling happier. Therefore, they are more likely to continue their personal growth pursuits.

How can you feel greater happiness?

There is no simple way to feel happier. Taking certain drugs may release endorphins that feel like happiness but these tend to be associated with a comedown period which can mean feeling unhappy after they have worn off and downright miserable in the worst cases. Therefore, doing activities and altering our mental attitudes tends to be the better option. Anything that offers a sense of flow when it is being done and a sense of accomplishment when it is completed is useful. Just going for a walk in nature can help but there are numerous other activities that are known to stimulate the brain in the right way to feel happier. Even something as passive as listening to music can do the trick. As mentioned, anything that is focussed on personal development is likely to be of assistance with feeling happier, too.

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Happiness Summary

To conclude, it should be said that there is a large number of interpretations of what happiness truly is. For some, it can include all emotive states from mild amusement right up to a sense of rushing euphoria. For others, it is better explained as a less emotive state and more of a measured response to stimuli. In other words, being happy could mean feeling inwardly content for a time without all of the related behavioural traits that are often associated with happy moments, such as smiling, laughing or even crying with joy.

In the Buddhist tradition, happiness is only truly possible once all cravings and human desires have been overcome, which, intriguingly, must also mean the desire to make oneself happy. The dualism that is inherent in Hinduism places an equal emphasis on all aspects of the self as a route towards greater bliss. There again, Jewish people will often refer to their happy feelings a Simcha, a name that personifies happiness to an extent. Most adherents of the Jewish faith would agree that greater Simcha in life means a better capacity for living in the service of God. In other words, being happy and having faith seem to be tied together in some sense.

Few people would argue that being happy is something that is undesirable in life. However, most would also say that, in terms of moral responsibility to others, an individual's sense of well-being or joy should not come at the expense of others. In other words, fleeting moments of joy that come about from acts of selfishness or greed will often turn sour and may even lead to feelings of guilt down the line. So, although being happy is an emotive state, it can never be fully unpacked from what it is to live in a society among others.

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