What is Happiness?

Happiness doesn’t have one simple textbook definition. The definition given by dictionaries are just generalized ideas of the complex feeling. Being happy differs from person to person; that momentary feeling of tranquil bliss that some might describe as being happy is their happiness but not necessarily yours. We all find happiness in different things and in different ways, some need a reason to stay alive and be happy and others find happiness in simple everyday things.

For me, happiness is the long-awaited breath of fresh air when I reach my campsite in the summer. The smell of freshly mowed grass and campfire smoke, and the shrieking laughter of children and bike tires gliding on the pavement. Happiness is the excited chatter from the adults as they retell stories of the past. The story of the major thunderstorm with down pouring rain, the sound echoing off the tin roof; where, in thunder and lightning, they stood holding umbrellas cooking on the grills that sizzled from the touch of the rain and held down the metal rods of the canopy. The mornings after the storms where the children, still in their pajamas, went running for the nearest puddle to splash and jump in. Or the time Cory, a family friend, burnt his shoe by falling asleep warming up by the fire. Happiness is the peaceful calm of nightfall in nature with the chilly breeze against your skin and the sound of firewood crackling mixed with the melody of the cricket’s chirps. It’s that dizzily euphoric grin as you lay in bed recounting on the day.

For my older sister, Taniqua, her son is her happiness. In “ There's More to Life Than Being Happy,” Emily Esfahani Smith discusses psychiatrist Viktor Frankl and his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he states that finding a purpose in life keeps people going in their most trying times. Much like the concentration camp inmate in Frankl's book and Manoj Sing from the film Happy, a child gave my sister a reason to keep struggling to live and to choose to be happy. Two years before that was her lowest; as she stood next to me, words slurring and tumbling out of her mouth as she asked for a ride to the hospital. She mumbled something about taking a few too many pain relievers on purpose and realized she regretted it. That day I lost my sister; she didn’t die in the physical or mental sense, but emotionally she was lost to us all. She was physically with us, but she would be snappy and short-tempered or just completely isolate herself and ignored the world. Then on April 7th, 2013, as my nephew took his first breath, life seemed to rush back to Taniqua. Her smile was endless that day and for many after. She has bad days now and then, but all she has to do is look at the little boy with chocolate-colored hair and see his bright smile and suddenly everything is going to be just fine. This goes to show the variety of things that brings happiness. Even though we are related we have very different ideas of true happiness.

Just because everyone's definitions are different doesn’t mean that people can’t find their happiness in the same things. My sisters and I’s ideas of happiness are different, but both ultimately have to do with family. In the movie Happy, it is mentioned that a common factor among people that are happy is supportive friends and family. Denmark, the happiest nation, has cohousing communities where multiple family members or families live in the same building(Happy). This shows that people can have similar reasons for their happiness with the common one being the support of other people.

That doesn’t mean that happiness is a never-ending. As mentioned in the movie Happy, adversity is a key part of happiness. Being knocked down and struggling to get back is what makes happiness such a cherished and sought feeling. This is marked as the hedonic treadmill, which is the tendency for humans to always return to a relatively happy attitude, no matter how bad or good things get(Happy). It puts into perspective how truly happy you are after the struggle. Happiness is those things you think about in those down moments that keep you going and those are different for everyone. In “ There's More to Life Than Being Happy,” Smith states Frankl’s views on struggles in life with a quote from Frankl’s book: “‘If there is meaning in life at all,’ Frankl wrote, ‘then there must be meaning in suffering.’”(Smith). However, not everyone has those things they can think to when times get bad. Those are the people that lose hope and give up on living much like the two inmates written about by Viktor Frankl(Smith). They lost hope with nothing to look forward to when the bad ended until Frankl made them realize what they really have(Smith).

My generalized definition of happiness is the feeling of euphoric bliss in random moments in daily life that you know will be engraved in your memories forever. The in-depth definition for me is the chilling calmness that I feel when in nature and around my family. However, the definition of happiness is truly ambiguous. So, do you know yours?


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