What is Happiness?

A friend recently asked this question on her FB page. There were several short answers, due to space availability, I’m sure. But, me being me, I can’t just put a short and sweet answer to this question. 


The dictionary defines happiness as the state of being happy, good fortune, pleasure, contentment, joy. Then it expands on this short and sweet definition as well: feeling, showing, expressing joy; pleased; willing; causing joy or gladness; fortunate; lucky; aptly expressed as in ‘a happy turn of phrase’; and this one made me chuckle-slightly intoxicated. The word was not in existence before the1520’s, wonder what they called it then or was happiness even a consideration? 


If I were to give a short and snappy response as I usually do- it would be this: A good feeling.  Yeah, that’s it, or is it? Sounds good, simple, straight, to the point. Not satisfied with this response; I look at what happiness is not- again, the dictionary shows the antonym as: Misery.

I read on. In the synonym section happiness is equated with contentment, bliss, and felicity. The one little tell in this section was this comment: these words imply an active or passive state of pleasure or pleasurable satisfaction. Aha. This is more like it! Up to this point the words were rather nebulous, vague and not really describing what it is.


Happiness, active or passive, is not necessary to existence; nor is it’s polar opposite, misery.  At this point it becomes clear that happiness is highly individualized and its meaning can vary greatly from person to person.


In his misery, Job states my eyes will never see happiness again. For Esther, Mordecai and the Jews in Persia, their rescue from the hands of Haman resulted in a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, the two men who invested and increased the money their master had entrusted to them received the invitation to share their master’s happiness.


These people were happy, but there were differences. Being happy was not the result of the  same experience, nor was the object of their happiness, the length of time the happiness would last, or how many others would be affected by their happiness. But they all knew whom to thank for their happiness.


So, to get beyond the short answer to the question, happiness to me is first a feeling, second a state of being, and third an attitude. It’s the feeling I get when my babies run into my arms and say, “I love you, Nana.”  It’s the place that I’m in when I stop and think about how blessed I am, from being in a marriage that is still fun, caring and honest, to being the mother of three incredible adult children. As for attitude, that is a choice. Some call it contentment. I’m not sure that would be my definition. It’s a choice that I’ve sometimes had to consciously make in the middle of my misery; a choice that I saw and was unable to make at times, but when I was able there was a peace and contentment that came not of myself.


My friend, there’s my answer and somehow it seems just as nebulous as the dictionary description. Happiness is whatever gives you the “warm puppy” feeling, the state of being blessed and the choice of your attitude at any moment in time. To borrow a phrase from Will Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet- “there art thou happy!”  which comes from Friar Laurence. He further gives sage advice on happiness: ““ A pack of blessings lights upon thy back; Happiness courts thee in her best array;  But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,  Thou pout’st upon thy fortune and thy love:  Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.


Something to ponder:


A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:13

I know there is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live. Ecclesiastes 3:12

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Ecclesiastes 7:14a


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