What is happiness?

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was just about to go on holiday. We got talking about her trip to Sri Lanka a few years ago and as someone who likes to spend less time in the tourist hotspots and more time exploring the real side of the country, she spoke about how heartbreaking it could be to visit some of the poorer areas and see the way some of the children live. However as hard as it was to see the children living in the squalid conditions they do, it was also apparent that actually these children were happy. I know I would certainly have a hard time being content if I had to live in some of the dreadful conditions that they are faced with, yet many studies and a lot of research will back up the idea that many of the happiest nations in the world are also some of the poorest.

The whole conversation made me think hard about what happiness actually is. What it means to be happy, and how happiness measured.

Happiness. Probably the most sought after and complex of all human desires. It is a “mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging to contentment to intense joy.”

Everybody wants to be happy but not everybody knows how. In fact, not many people even know what it is. Most people see it as the destination and the end result.

The problem with western society is that our happiness is hindered by our greed. Happiness is something that can be learned depending on social and environmental factors, and I believe that in the western world we are taught to always want more and to expect more, thus making us never truly able to be happy and content with what we have because we are never satisfied. It is the values we learn as a child growing up that influence our perceptions on what it means for us to be happy.

Some may argue, that those living in poverty-stricken countries are able to treasure and truly appreciate people more than possessions due to the fact that the less they have to more they are able to appreciate. It might be that people living in third world countries have different values and different expectations of what it means to be happy with their beliefs as a result of socio-economic background.

We become so engrossed and obsessed with self-satisfaction that we often overlook and forget the people around us. Family, friends and the community we live in. Leaving behind the very things and values that those from developing countries cherish.

Is the reason westerners find it so hard to experience happiness because the things we associate with happiness are also the things which cause us pain, ie money, power, fame. Have we got our ideas of what makes us happy so wrong that the reason we cannot maintain happiness, is because we spend so long chasing the wrong things. Could these things actually be blinding us from the real things that would make us happy. Are we searching so hard that we are completely missing the point. Is happiness right in front of our very eyes but we are so distracted by our cravings that we fail to see what is already in front of our very own eyes.

I believe that many of us get too caught up in trying to find happiness in our possessions rather than finding happiness from ourselves.

Take away the very things which cloud our vision and what are we left with? If happiness is an emotional or mental state of well-being then it is no wonder that so many of us find it so hard to tune into our own happiness, because we are substituting our basic emotional and mental needs and replacing them with materialistic ones. I suppose one could argue that it’s those very things we crave – money, success and possessions which are also the cause of our own demise.

In my opinion using money and possesions to achieve happiness is no different than using alcohol or drugs. The reason being is that both are short term solutions to long term problems. Instead of finding the root of the cause of what is making you unhappy, you end up papering over the problem with something that is temporary. Like with substance abuse and addiction, in order to maintain this temporary high the more you have the more you want.

Majority of the time if we are unhappy or have had a bad day, we put it down to the fact that things haven’t gone our way and we convince ourselves that we will be happier once things change. It is too easy to confuse happiness with perfection. In an ideal world, everything would be perfect, but realisticly perfection doesn’t exist. Life is not perfect and it is not always fair but that doesn’t mean that we can never allow ourselves to be happy. Life is about making the best of what you have, even when you don’t have much at all. Instead of waiting for happiness to come to you it is about creating your own happiness.

To me, happiness is a state of mind. It is self acceptance, and the confidence to be yourself and not need other people’s approval. For me happiness is being at peace with yourself and at peace with those who are around you. Happiness is the absence of stress.

Although I believe that happiness can be influenced by external factors, ultimately it is down to you to decide your own happiness.

One thing that i do know for certain is that life is short and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Whatever you do, make sure it makes you happy because life is too short to be sad.

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