Happiness is a state of mind worthy of contemplation because, unfortunately, happiness is not on the upswing—at least not in the United States. In 2007, the U.S. ranked as the third happiest nation in the world. Since then, Americans have fallen to eighteenth place, according to the 2018 United Nations’ World Happiness report.
But what is happiness? According to Webster, the definition of happiness is “the state of joy, peace and tranquility.” It sounds simple enough, but it’s difficult to measure. If you’re happy, you know it because it feels good. And the opposite is also true, but there’s not much there to quantify. Science has shown, however, that aside from feeling good, happy people live longer. So how do we set about achieving more happiness at work and in life?
Unfortunately, we can’t control everything. Genetics are responsible for a predisposed baseline of happiness in each of us. Still, we can make choices to tip the scale. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at UC Riverside and the author of The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness is a leader in the field of well-being science. Her research finds that “truly happy people construe life events and daily situations in ways that seem to maintain their happiness, while unhappy individuals construe experiences in ways that seem to reinforce unhappiness.” This means that the stories we tell ourselves are biased toward the positive or negative. In other words, seeing yourself and the world through rose-tinted lenses has its benefits.
A growing body of evidence shows that happiness-boosting efforts improve well-being. The happiest people tend to avoid measuring themselves in a poor light against their peers, judge themselves fairly, and avoid dwelling and rumination, among other positive habits. Mindfulness plays into all of these practices that help promote a happy mindset.
Aside from creating a happy mindset internally, there are outside factors to consider. Experiencing awe—again, from Webster: “a strong feeling of respect or amazement brought on by something that is beautiful or sacred”—is important. Awe makes us feel small, what scientists refer to as “self-diminishment,” which is a healthy reminder to let go of our egos and worries because we (and our concerns) are tiny in the scale of the universe. These reminders promote humility, which helps us connect better with others (and social connections are critical to happiness). Nature is a fantastic source of awe, but there are other ways to find awe daily. While seeking awe, you’ll likely discover gratitude, self-awareness and mindfulness at play.
Money is often associated with happiness, and research has found that to be true—but only if you spend it on others, use it to create free time or buy experiences (as opposed to things).
With these components in mind, we’re exploring various interpretations of happiness this week. From asking our SIYLI Staff members and friends, we found that everyone has a different personal definition—but none falls far afield from the science above. If you were to finish the sentence “Happiness is…”, what would it be?
Happiness is living life with loving awareness and connection to oneself, others and the world around us.”
—Rich Fernandez, SIYLI CEO
Happiness is alignment living up to your values, and being kind to yourself when you don’t. Happiness is loving people and feeling our interconnection. Happiness is also the feeling of getting in bed and tucking in thick covers around you at the end of the day.
Happiness is deep appreciation of what you have and moments of laughter every day.
—Lindsey Kugel, SIYLI director, public programs and partnerships
Happiness is a choice: Choosing to accept ourselves and our lives. Choosing to smile at the imperfections. Choosing to enjoy the present moment. Choosing to see beautiful lessons in every experience. Choosing to see depth and light in ourselves and others.Choosing to serve a greater purpose. It’s a choice. A trainable choice.
—Carolina Lasso, SIYLI director of marketing
Happiness is what emerges when I (seldom) manage to let go of the many stories that I tell me about mySelf. [sic: intentional capitalization]
Happiness is a temporary state. I’ve often thought that happiness is the goal, but the danger in that is if you just aim for happiness, you miss out on all of the other parts of being human—the full range of being. Knowing that happiness comes and goes, just like other thoughts, feelings and emotions, I’d rather have no aim other than to just be. Being with what is and accepting each moment, thought, feeling and experience as a teacher, pointing to a greater understanding.
—Abri Holden, SIYLI teacher training program manager
Happiness is the ease that comes with feeling seen, understood, and accepted.
—Judith Harris, SIYLI engagement manager
Happiness is waking up in a tent at sunrise and opening the door to see the beautiful views and sounds of nature all around.
—Jason Sbordone, SIYLI program development manager
Happiness is being. Or more precisely: Happiness is being, knowingly.
Happiness is fully being in the moment. I feel it in the myriad of different micro-connections I have in my day—when I’m laughing with a colleague, exchanging a brief smile with a stranger on my commute, receiving an email from a client who’s enjoyed our program or seeing a participant experience more well-being through a mindfulness practice.
Happiness is sunlight filtering through the redwoods.
—Caitlin Stull, SIYLI public program manager