On Thursday, I was in a public speaking competition with Jaz, and we had to write about a speech on whatever topic we wanted. The first one I drafted, was about descrimintion, and I hated it. I thought the speech was terrible and I refused to say it the next day at the competition.
The whole time I was writing it though, all I could think was: Happiness.
What is happiness? It means so many different things depending on who you are and I really wanted to explore that.
What is happiness to you?
I'm sorry if some of my information about religion is wrong, just let me know if it is.
What is Happiness?
When people think about happiness, it is often in the literal sense of the word: the state of being happy. Happy in the sense of feeling or showing contentment or pleasure, as defined by the Heinemann dictionary. But happiness has to be more than this, more than a rush of hormones, more than words on a piece of paper and more than a fleeting memory marking the absence of misery. Happiness is something that is subjective from person to person and no one really asks the important question: what is happiness?
The governments in many countries have developed a quantitative and theoretical study of happiness, called economics of happiness. The theory claims to be able to measure happiness so it can be compared across cultures and countries. They claim that first and foremost, the contributing factors to individual happiness is employment and social security. People who are employed and working are often happier as they are generating an income for themselves and their families, allowing them to live their lives as best they can. Working gives people a sense of purpose in their life, something that drives them forward each and every day. Having freedom and control over one’s life gives people the power to live their life how they want to live it. They can marry who they want, follow a religion they believe in, follow the path they think is best. Having this freedom and control contributes towards a person’s happiness and general wellbeing. Religious diversity and cultural acceptance also play a role in happiness, as does people’s leisure time and how they spend it. However, this is all happiness that is standardised by the government – so really, what is happiness?
An ancient philosopher, Aristotle in 350 BC, decreed that happiness and a happy life require the fulfilment of conditions, both of physical and mental wellbeing. This included a moral character with courage, generosity, friendship and justice. But, according to Aristotle, happiness was not a state of mind. Happiness was, according to him, a life-long goal that could only be achieved at the end of one’s life – it was the ultimate goal of human existence. Others have argued that how humans behave, both collectively and individually will affect the resulting happiness of an individual. In short, philosophers dictate that happiness is flourishing, living a good life, and acting a certain way, rather than an emotion you can feel.
Religion also, has different definitions and ideas about happiness and what it means. In Catholicism, happiness is attained at the end of human existence in the next life. The “blessed happiness” is a complete well-being that correlates with the contemplation of God, as the supreme delight. In Judaism, the happiness itself is the service to god, and the joy a person takes in performing a mitzvah and in loving God. It is stated in a teaching that happiness is grounded in the appreciation of opportunities within life itself, with the knowledge that each moment can be infused with meaning and be used become closer God. There is no happiness in material things, only spiritual matters. Alternatively, Buddhism defines happiness in two different ways:
- Happiness is experiencing something in a satisfying manner, that is thought to be of benefit to yourself, and
- Happiness is a feeling that someone should wish to feel again
Religion all has different ideas on what happiness is, but the question remains: what is happiness?
In science, relatively little is known about happiness and its origins. Neuroscientist Richard J Davidson observed that the word happiness “is a kind of placeholder for a constellation of positive emotional states. Of all the emotions, happiness is the one scientists least understand.” What is understood however, is that the cortex of the brain receives a sensory stimulation that processes it as a “reward” of sorts. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter and chemical substance is released by neurons and is associated with positive emotions, such as happiness. Pleasurable feelings have also been accredited to the release of endorphins throughout the brain.
But what is happiness? Ordinary people don’t think about happiness in terms of chemicals and endorphins, or great philosophical theories. They feel. People touch, they explore, and they live. When asked what happiness brings to mind, people think of other people: their families sitting around the dinner table, girlfriends eyes glittering in the sun. They think of their best friend singing at the top of their lungs. People associate happiness with the smell of rain as it hits concrete on a hot day, and the taste of a cupcakes fresh out of the oven. Freedom and success, they believe, brings them happiness. People laughing, smiling, dancing, the joyfulness between a pair hugging. Happiness isn’t just an emotion, it’s a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch.
But what is happiness? Happiness is a subjective word or idea that means many different things to many different people. Philosophers dictate it to be the ultimate life goal, something you can be through how you behave. Religion believes happiness to be the servitude to a God and all that constitutes. In science, happiness is a release of dopamine and endorphins. But, to everyday people, it’s life. Happiness cannot be defined: happiness is what you think makes you happy.