Does happiness mean always being happy? I’m not sure that it’s possible to expect a constant state of happiness — especially when we live in a scary time and in a confused world. We want happiness that comes from feelings of joy and pleasure. Yet these feelings are fleeting. Never-ending bliss is impossible.
Everyone has their own way of defining and measuring happiness. There is no simple meaning to the word happiness. Happiness has a subjective quality. Each of us interprets it differently. What represents a happy experience for me won’t be the same for another person.
Is Happiness a Choice?
To an extent, we choose happiness by how we live. Setting goals and intentions for life and then working to achieve such goals bring feelings of accomplishment and a resultant amount of happiness.
Genetics and personality play a part in happiness. Scientists have yet to identify a happiness gene but there is evidence that personality traits related to a happy disposition may be inherited. Studies of twins by research teams in Scotland and Australia (Weiss et al, Psychological Science Journal, March 2017) found some evidence of genetic links to happiness. They cautioned that happiness is not only an inherited trait; it also depends on external factors such as relationships, health and careers.
Choosing happiness also relates to life circumstances and environment. For someone living in a refugee camp in Libya, happiness choices are limited. Overcoming hunger, deprivation and fear take precedence over pleasurable means of achieving happiness such as surfing the internet. Survival and finding a path to freedom surpass choices such as what colour to wear or which movie to watch on Netflix!
Money Can’t Buy Happiness
Everyone has heard the statement ‘money can’t buy happiness’ yet most people dream of winning a lottery or inheriting a fortune. The is no question that a certain amount of money allows fulfillment of basic needs and is thus, essential for happiness. Additionally, money for discretionary expenditures can buy experiences of well-being that relate to happiness. Daniel Kahneman, Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University and Nobel prize winner in Economic Sciences, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, writes that improved financial status does not necessarily increase ‘experienced well-being’. Beyond a certain point, more money does not buy more happiness.
Knowing there’s reliably enough money to cover expenses for housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, and a bit of fun gives freedom from money worries. For older people, financial security provides a form of happiness — especially if financial security means fewer worries that whatever you have won’t be taken away from you.
Money allows the purchase of certain experiences that increase happiness such as an excursion with a grandchild, or a trip to celebrate a special anniversary.
Many people use money to buy time, thus gaining more free time for enjoyable activities. Money can purchase services such as housekeeping or landscaping to ease drudgery. For example, one couple I know continually fought over housework. By hiring a housekeeper, this aggravation was eliminated and their marital happiness increased significantly. Control over the use of precious time increases happiness, especially in a time-stressed society.
Material things provide a sense of satisfaction but true happiness comes from within. Buying a fancy car or a larger house may not make us happier in the long term. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to be grateful for what we have. Good health, loving relationships with family members, friendships, connections to a community — these precious commodities are never available for purchase.
You won’t Always Feel Happy
It’s not possible to maintain a constant state of happiness. Stuff happens. Disappointments and sadness are emotional states that are as real as joy and happiness. Learning how to respond and move forward when things go badly makes all the difference.
The attitude taken toward disappointment affects happiness levels. We can choose to react negatively or we can choose to move forward with a focus on living based on values. Experiencing challenges, questions, and doubts brings frustration and sadness. Yet, these downs help us to appreciate the ups.
My conclusion is that happiness is a state of mind — but not a constant state. It’s a way of feeling satisfied with life. Money allows fulfillment of basic needs but true happiness comes from within. Demonstrating humility, graciousness, intelligence, empathy, and respect in daily encounters with others will bring more happiness than winning a lottery.
The pursuit of never-ending happiness is impossible. However, living with purpose, accepting pitfalls, and maintaining optimism will bring deep contentment. A bit of money will also help with choices to delight yourself when your soul just feels good!
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