“Happiness is a state of activity,” Aristotle said. I really like that. I know people who seem happy as long as they are busy. And those six words somehow pack in much to ponder. But Aristotle just couldn’t stop there. He had to confuse the hell out of it: “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and the end of human existence.”
K…that’s too much to compute. And sry Aristotle but times have changed and maybe the definition of happiness is even cultural.
On first pass, the ways people around the world say they experience happiness have some obvious commonalities. One 2016 study of 2,799 adults in 12 countries found that in all the nations studied, psychological definitions of happiness—“an inner state, feeling or attitude”—dominated all others. In particular, people worldwide said they found happiness in achieving “inner harmony.”
Inner harmony might sound universal, but it can mean very different things in different places. For example, in Denmark, the Danes often described inner harmony in terms of hygge, which is something like coziness and comfortable conviviality. Meanwhile, North Americans tend to define it in terms of their skills meeting their passions, usually in the context of work.
Some big thinkers shun the whole concept of defining happiness. “What does ‘happy’ mean? Happiness is not a state like Vermont,” said Abraham Maslow. Hmmm well, maybe happiness is a state, like Vermont, but sometimes we’re stuck in New Jersey (Sorry NJ).
Another hot take from the OG Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Less a definition than a philosophical calling, but it sounds pretty good?
Finally, Einstein took a much less philosophical view: “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?”. Einstein and I clearly have very different views.
Undoubtedly, we all define happiness in a different way. Perhaps the more important question I should be asking is this: What’s your definition of happiness?
Here are some of the answers from our Instagram poll this past week that asked: How do you define happiness?
"Sense of inner peace" - Serenna
"Self love." - KR
"Saturday morning, in bed, with my two girls smiling at me" - Alan
"The feeling of comfort and ease of being surrounded by my family. Including my parents and siblings." - Gillian
"Happiness would be a sweet balance between the feeling I get when my dog's tail wags when I walk into the door and what my stomach feels like when I eat cake." - Suman
"A feeling of peace alongside contentment - I feel happy when I give myself space to" - Mary
"Contentment is happiness for me. I don’t think happiness is a prolonged state, contentment is. Hence feeling content keeps me happy and peaceful." - Prayag