Trying to make sense of life and to learn living it happily.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Conceptualize Happiness

Art by ~ghettojack

Often it feels that we are in such a hurry to become happier, that we forget to stop and think what "happiness" is, and what it means to us. 

The very first step to lasting happiness is to formulate what it is and what it isn’t.

Each of us is different. We perceive the world differently. Our five senses, our physical experiences, spiritual experiences, our  mental processes and emotions are different. 

On the physical level, we are different on the outside, which is pretty obvious by our looks, as well as on the inside (which sometimes is less obvious, but nonetheless, very true). We perceive and relate to the smell, the sound, the touch, the sight, and the taste individually. For example, each of us experiences pain differently: some endure it, others cannot tolerate it at all, some bear it silently, others moan and yell. Our attitude to pain is different as well. Some find it unpleasant but tolerable, while others fear it and will go to great length to avoid it, whereas others find pleasure in it. Such difference of perception happens with any physical experience.

The same individuality applies to our spiritual, intellectual, moral and emotional functions. When we read the same book or watch the same movie, we each pay attention to different cues, and arrive to slightly (or vastly) different conclusions. One may like it, another love it passionately and want to re-read it or watch it again,  the third one resent it, the forth one will not be able to get past the first chapter/ten minutes, and someone else might find it boring and forget it in a week. 

We love differently, we grieve differently, we think differently, we memorize differently. We hold different notions of kindness, beauty, good and evil. By the same token, there is no universal notion of happiness. It is a general term for something that we experience distinctly and dissimilarly to others. 

Therefore, we should not try to emulate the displays of happiness that we see in other people or on television and movies. If you are not the smiley, bouncy type, do not think that you are less happy because you do not laugh out loud when something nice happens to you. Happiness may be experienced in different ways - it can be loud, fun, cheerful, gay, merry, hilarious or it can be quiet, contemplative, insightful, content, peaceful. We can feel it differently at different times and the way we experience happiness may change with age.

Do not expect to naturally react to life similarly to your heroes, parents, or friends. And do not expect or insist that your children react to things the same way as you do. They are different inside the same way they look differently or have different fingerprints than you.

To be able to control things, we should be able to conceptualize them. For many centuries, humans did not understand the nature and causes of various diseases. Therefore, they were believed to be divine punishment, similar to other phenomena, such as thunder, lightning, or eclipse. Now in many cases we have a better understanding of disease processes, what they are and what causes them, and we can control them better by prevention or treatment.

So, to be happy let us first conceptualize what we think happiness is.  If we do not have a good idea about what it is, we cannot move toward it, and we will not recognize that we may already have it. We will have to include some things, and to exclude others.

Below are exercises that are focused on the theory of happiness. It may take a lot of time to understand what is right for you, incorporating what you learned from this blog and from your own experience. The theory may never be complete. It changes and evolves as do you, your personality, and your understanding.

Exercise 1:
Think about your emotional response to the state of happiness. How do you know when you are happy? What do you feel when you know you are happy?
·         elation
·         intensity
·         calm
·         serenity
·         smile
·         laugh
·         cry with tears of joy
·         satisfaction
·         pleasure
·         self esteem
·         peacefulness
·         other - list them for yourself

Ask yourself:

When you are happy, do you feel the emotion for a short time, or does it last for a long time?

If happiness means elation and pleasure, do you consider yourself no longer happy when these feelings subside?

What does it mean to you to be a happy person in a long term? What feeling or emotion do you need to have to know that your entire life if happy? 

When you wish to be happier, or for you loved ones to be happier, what do you have in mind?

Exercise 2: 

Decide what happiness has always meant to you. Make a list. You can use some of these:
·         Just being alive
·         Relationships
·         Good education
·         Children
·         Health
·         Being physically attractive, being beautiful
·         Financial status
·         Possessions
·         Doing what you love
·         Having great career
·         Peer approval and popularity
·         Good entertainment (computer games, movies, music, electronic media, etc.)
·         Country living
·         City living
·         Relaxing
·         Being busy
·         Taking care of others
·         Feeling the care of others
·         Just feeling good about life
·         Contentment
·         Add anything else

Do not try to include things that you think are appropriate or constitute the "right answer". This exercise is not for anybody's judgment, it is just for you, for your own understanding. So just pick whatever you always wanted in order to be happy.

Look at the above list carefully.  Ask yourself:

Are these things that ultimately make you happy or are they your goals in life? (our goals in life do not necessarily overlap with our happiness). 

Are they mostly important for your success or for your own well-being and happiness?

If you do not achieve them, will you still be able to be happy?  

If you do achieve them, are you pretty much guaranteed to have happiness ever after?

Do you already have some of the things on the list?

Do most of the things on your list depend on outside circumstances or your own attitude?
Does it seem unreasonable to you to feel happy for no particular reason?

How would you explain happiness to your children? What attitude do you want to instill in them?

Based on the above reflections (which may take a minute, a day or months), decide if you want to add or subtract something from your list above to clarify your concept of happiness.

And remember that the state of happiness originates, develops and exists inside of us, from our state of mind, from our attitude toward the world around us. It does not originate from outside. Things happen, or do not happen. We are the ones who react to them in different ways.

Now we can recognize our individual sources of happiness and our unique reactions to them. Therefore, we have a better sense of what our happiness is and a better control of it.


  1. Olga, is your personal goal to be happy no matter what life throws at you? In other words is it ok to feel sad if things don't go your way as long as you return to your happy state?
    You make a very good point that there is a difference between simply wanting to feel happy and visualizing yourself happy

    1. Since we get only one chance at this life, I think the goal is to know, to be sure that our life is generally good, to have a good feeling about it. I believe happiness is being content with our life overall, not endure it, but enjoy it.
      It is natural and expected to feel sad if something negative happens. The goal is to have the baseline of contentment that underlines the constant ups and the downs that are our everyday life.
      Thank you for your comment