It’s one of the worst words in the dictionary to define.
The reason is understandable; it refers to an internal human experience, all of which to some extent are subjective.
It may be preferential, therefore, to use the word ‘happiness’ as an umbrella term. In doing so we can use it as a reference point, rather than a simple noun.
We could agree that to be happy is essentially to feel ‘well’; that is, the sense of living through a ‘good’ experience, or a ‘good’ life.
So, what constitutes a feeling of ‘wellness’? There are four key elements I suggest are not only essentially but primary in a life that can be described as happy.
Let’s get the obvious out the way: The smiling face. There’s no doubt that laughter, liveliness, passion, zest and ecstasy are all feelings associated with happiness.
However, it’s vitally important to know this is the very tip of the iceberg. Experiences like this are wonderful but they are not all we are capable of knowing.
Feelings of exhalation are brilliant and of course should always be welcomed, but by nature are temporary and fleeing.
And that’s good.
True happiness is not always feeling positive. It encompasses innate characteristics such as empathy, compassion, sacrifice and service. All of which, at times, would not be described as ‘positive’ experiences. But I’m sure we can agree they are elements of a life well lived.
I would go as far as to suggest every single person would have a richer, more productive and enjoyable life if they developed the skill of resilience.
We all are presented with enormous challenges at one time or another. Our ability to face these obstacles with enduring psychological strength has unfathomable importance in our lives.
This is where the deep concern of covering one’s problems with temporary highs and attractive objects plays a part, and another reason it’s important to have perspective on the ‘smiling face’ notion of happiness.
Grit and determination give us the ability to navigate through the toughest of days with hope and the desire to see ourselves through to a better life.
This is where we begin to experience real happiness. Knowing your day has been spent productively – towards goals that are meaningful to you – this is a happy life.
Often this comes in the form of service to something of personal importance or the expression of creativity within your specific skill sets or passions, later to be a source of joy to others.
Meaningful activities are ones we are fully enthralled with. Activities that we lose ourselves in can only speak how enjoyable it was in the past tense. Activities where time and self are not in existence.
To partake in meaningful activities also brings a sense of fulfillment. Expressing one’s natural capacities and strengths in the pursuit of excellence feel worthwhile and fruitful, almost as if we are partaking on a mission, completely oblivious to the notion of attainment or success – fully committed to the process, the journey, the labour.
Living with meaning – that is; to create meaningful things or experiences, or to spend time helping a cause deemed meaningful to us, allows the fullness of the human experience to unfold. It’s the sun to the flower, the fuel to the engine.
And the crux of it all. A risky word for many, but desirable for all. Transcendence can be otherwise described as the sense of internal freedom or inner peace.
This is the knowing that there is simply more to life than work, things, experiences, achievement and fulfillment.
Its a deep understanding that the course of our history had a beginning and will surely have an end. Our lives on Earth are to be enjoyed, explored and endured, but not to be obsessed with.
It could be said, transcendence is the feeling of carelessness. The ability to approach all things in life with playful negation and unidentified, unattached exuberance.
In this state we are less affected by the lows of life, less sensationalised by the high spirited attractions of our creations – simply at peace.
Arguably it’s more than an aspect of a happy life. It’s to have won.