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Healing & Well-Being

What is Happiness? Definition and Where to Find it

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A state of happiness is something that we all seek, and it can prove elusive in our busy, stressful modern lives. 

Happiness means different things to different people. It isn't just about pure hedonic pleasures found in acquiring material wealth or out-performing our peers in the workplace or university. 

Happiness is a spiritual state of mind, and happy people often have a closer relationship with God. Happiness isn't quite the same as joy, although it shares some common traits.

When we consider happiness as an emotional state across a spectrum of feelings, a definition of happiness can also describe a feeling of general contentment and gladness while having a sense of purpose. 

Many philosophers and theologians (from St Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, to St Augustine) have considered the difference between joy and happiness. Many have asked whether the search for happiness is part of our overall search for meaning in our lives.

Boy sitting on bench smiling

What is the true meaning of happiness?

There are various definitions of happiness. St Thomas Aquinas spoke about achieving "blessed happiness." This was equivalent to the notion of Greek eudaimonia, which means to flourish. This notion of blessedness is seen as a vision of our journey to the next life. 

Aquinas also said that the pursuit of happiness, which is based solely on reason and thought, will only produce limited versions of happiness. He instead tells us that true happiness comes from drawing closer to God and performing virtuous acts of kindness and forgiveness. Aquinas also says that positive emotions can be experienced by practicing faith, hope, and charity in our daily lives.

Aristotle also regarded the development of virtue as an essential element in the pursuit of happiness. He says that, without virtue, the best we can hope to achieve is merely contentment or general life satisfaction.

St Augustine teaches us that happiness on Earth is impossible, and instead, we should anticipate happiness in the afterlife. Happiness on Earth can be found in virtuous acts. Even Scripture tells us to “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:3-4)

In positive psychology, happiness and life satisfaction may include a feeling of well-being and healthy self-esteem. Happy people may also experience intense joy or ecstasy in the short term, particularly if they suddenly experience good fortune in their career or personal life.

Happy man standing on shore, hands outstretched

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Where do we find happiness?

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In her book The How of Happiness, Sonia Lyubomirsky (author and Ph.D.) tried to develop a formula for human happiness. Her book says that 10% of our lives are affected by external factors and circumstances beyond our control, which can affect our levels of happiness. 

The strategies in her book are focused on performing acts of virtue and pursuing activities that are truly engaging and create a “flow” state. 

She also recommends a number of virtuous strategies, such as learning to forgive, practicing acts of daily kindness, and taking time to appreciate the simple joys in your daily life. Her book also tells us to practice gratitude, which is an ongoing theme in the science of happiness.

Pastor Greg Laurie tells us that we need to let “God’s thoughts be our thoughts,” and his message focuses upon the healing power of forgiveness as a means to authentic happiness. In his podcast, he says you can only find real and lasting happiness when you have a genuine relationship with God.

We can experience a feeling of contentment and calmness simply by managing our emotions better. Strategies like daily meditation can help us improve our skills in emotional self-regulation.

Finding imperfect happiness by living a virtuous life

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Christians may consider a feeling of blessedness or contentment to be closely related to how aligned we are with God in a spiritual sense in our daily lives. We can do this through prayer and reflection.

Human beings seek happiness only after their basic needs are met. So there’s a big difference between hedonic happiness, which is based on material wealth or success, and eudemonic happiness, which is about searching for meaning. 

This is acknowledged in the science of happiness and positive psychology. Our search for meaning might include having a sense of purpose and seeking to fulfill our purpose in life through personal growth.

The path toward happiness starts with developing virtues and practicing gratitude daily. Several studies have identified the important role played by developing gratitude to our mental health. You can start developing gratitude by using these simple morning prayers to start your day.

You have to take responsibility for your own happiness. This can start with prayer and reflection and seeking to become closer to God. Neuroscience also shows how our happiness levels can increase when we seek to help others in our daily lives.

In positive psychology, a happy life can be linked with a feeling of subjective well-being. Our feelings of happiness may be derived from three areas: 

  1. How we assess the world and our place in it (our state of mind) 
  2. Our recollection of past emotional experiences (positive feelings and negative emotions) 
  3. The sum total of our emotional reactions over time 

Everyone experiences a range of emotions on any given day. We can’t expect to be happy at all times. It's normal to feel grief, sadness, anger, or resentment at different times. Demonstrating gratitude for the blessings we've been given in our lives has been shown to increase our overall happiness. 

Making a daily gratitude list will always make you feel better by acknowledging all the blessings in your life. There are simple ways to practice gratitude daily, which will increase your general well-being.

Happiness and the Search for Meaning

Philosophers have provided a definition of happiness, which includes two different elements: a state of mind or a feeling of general well-being. 

Happiness means more than simply experiencing life satisfaction or contentment in the short term. Others have considered happiness as part of our general search for meaning in life. Christians would equate our search for meaning in life to the closeness of our relationship with God. 

Theologians and philosophers like St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine say that we cannot experience true happiness on Earth, but instead, we should seek imperfect happiness and blessings: This can be achieved by living a virtuous life and being grateful for what we have.

When we abandon our search for personal happiness and instead seek to become closer to Jesus Christ, we're more likely to become happier ourselves (as a natural result of being more selfless). The key to your own happiness is to become closer to God and be grateful for all the blessings He has given us.

If you need a little more gratitude to fill your morning prayers, download the app in the iOS App Store or Google Play Store.

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