My Website | My Twitter| My Facebook| My Blog | MyLinks| My Work

Happiness Defined

Happiness is a word used to refer to a number of possibly related concepts. In this sense I beleive it is a composite. At times someone will identify one component of the composite "not true happiness" or in the opposite direction will indicate that authentic happiness must include all of the composite elements.

The term meaningful and satisfying lifestyle was chosen by the Kenora Association for Community Living (the author's employer) to cover its primary goal for persons with special needs. I believe this phrase was chosen to signify a deeper, more profound, continuing and suitable sense of satisfaction that the association was aiming to achieve for those it served. And while I will continue to use the term happiness I utilize the term to cover this extended composite.

Research has identified a number of the contributing elements or attributes that correlate with happiness:

  1. positive feelings, emotions or moods
  2. engagement (Flow),
  3. eudamonia or well living (human flourishing),
  4. significaance, spirituality
  5. positive relationships,
  6. Family Relationships,
  7. employment,
  8. health,
  9. democratic freedom,
  10. optimism,
  11. religious involvement,
  12. perception of being in control
  13. and income

Additional notes on definition

Some conclusions about happiness:

The History of Happiness

The root “hap” means “chance” or “fortune

Socrates (469-399BC) concluded that happiness was inseparable from goodness. Socrates and Plato used the Greek term Eudamonia (good spirit) term to distinguish a kind of happiness separate from pleasures of the flesh. Aristotle said it was constituted by practicing virtue over the course of one’s life and identified virtues of character that contributed to eudamonia: Courage, Honesty, Friendliness, Wittiness, rationality.

Epicurus emphasized that one should work for the greatest pleasure in the long run even if he had to delay gratification in the short run

Buddha introduced the role of the human mind in cultivating happiness with Mindfulness & The 4 Noble Truths.

1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering is an eightfold path .

For Further Elaboration: http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/fourtruths.html

The Noble Eightfold Path- a practical ethical and mental development guideline with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions

1.Right View

2.Right Intention

3.Right Speech

4.Right Action

5.Right Livelihood

6.Right Effort

7.Right Mindfulness

8.Right Concentration

For further elaboration;http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.html

Christian view: Happiness can be won by via good works. The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful. Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of Christian ideals that focus on love and humility. They echo the highest ideals of the teachings of Jesus on mercy spirituality and compassion. The 8 beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12  during the Sermon on the Mount are stated as , “Blessed are:

the poor in spirit: for theirs is the  kingdom of heaven (5:3)

  they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (5:4)

  the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (5.5)

  they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (5.6)

  the  merciful: for they shall obtain mercy (5:7)

  the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (5.8)

  the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (5.9)

  they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5.10)

Subsequently in the Age of Enlightenment: happiness is seen as a Democratic right

Dave Humes- we do virtuous things less for their own sake than to experience pleasurable feelings

Jeremy Bentham: Guiding Action: The greatest happiness of the greatest number

Life liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Dr Samuel Johnson and the Declaration of Independence (Compare with Canada - Peace Order and Good Government)

Scientific Study of Happiness:

Martin Seligman 1992 – Learned helplessness

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1992) (Flow)

Christopher Peterson Character Strengths and Virtues counterpart of DSM;

Ed Diener Limits of money to increase happiness

Abraham Maslow (Peak experience)

Component Elements

Three Component Elements-Martin Seligman

Element 1 Positive Feelings

Easily associated with the concept of happiness and everyday common use of the word is the subjective state of mind, emotion or feeling characterized by contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy. (Simple Pleasure)

What we objectively get (wealth) is not the same as what we subjectively experience when we get it (utility). Wealth may be counted in dollars, but utility must be measured by counting how much goodness those dollars buy. Wealth doesn't matter; utility does.-Daniel Gilbert

Element 2 Flow or Engagement

Positive psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi(1990) identifies a concept he calls flow and identifies the following ten factors that may accompanying an experience of flow

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  2. Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
  10. Absorption into the activity, narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - On Flow

Element 3 Eudaimonia or Human Flourishing

Another concept used by philosophers who define happiness in terms of living a good life, well being or flourishing. The greek word for this was "eudaimonia".

The Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook of human strengths and virtues, by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, represents the first attempt on the part of the research community to identify and classify the positive psychological traits of human beings.

Seligman identifies the following hallmarks for "A signature strengths"

The CSV identifies six classes of virtue (i.e. "core virtues"), made up of twenty-four measurable character strengths:


The act of giving thanks anchors us in the present- rather than complain about the past or focus on the futures we focus on the positive in the here and now. It increases our sense of security and self-confidence and inspires us to be more altruistic.

Some ideas about increasing feelings of gratitude:

  1. Gratitude Journal- Keep a notebook to record daily things for which you are thankful
  2. Gratitude letters- Write a letter to someone for an act of kindness or something they did.
  3. Graciously accept gratitude

Element 4, (Meaning, Significance, Spirituality)

-a purposeful path whether religious or simply for a cause greater than oneself

•Can involve any commitment to and belief in any cause greater than oneself

•Significance: What is important to the individual, institution or culture

•Includes life’s ultimate concerns death, tragedy inequity – but doesn’t stop there

•Could include tangible possessions, may be defined in terms of personal well being, peace of mind, meaning in life, personal growth, physical health, or avoidance of pain, potentially self-centered, or desire to make world a better place, may focus on intimacy and may be defined in terms of sacred

•A perspective of significance can enhance happiness by creating a sense of meaning and coherency, by instilling values and a sense of awe, and by inspiring believers to take care of themselves

Two Religious Perspectives

•The Substantive Tradition: Religion is uniquely concerned with God, deities, supernatural beings, transcendent forces, and whatever comes to be associated with these higher powers

•The Functional Tradition: Religion is concerned about how people come to terms with ultimate issues in life

Acting on the premises that their life has inherent meaning – as opposed to asserting that all events are random- serves to help believers find a sense of purpose that infuses them with energy. They feel connected to something larger than themselves and understand their individual role as one that honours that connection

Jonathan Haidt: Humanity Stairway to Self_transcendence

There are two great days in a person's life-the day we are born and the day we discover why. -William Barclay

Element 5 Positive Social Relationships

Hobbes suggested that we should consider the happiness of individuals "as if but even now sprung out of earth, and suddenly (like mushrooms) came to full maturity, without any kind of engagement with each other". But as pointed out by Layard(2005) and countless others People are not like mushrooms. They are inherently social beings and happiness depends in part on the quality and number of our relationships.

Video Resources

Laura Carstensen: Older People are Happier

Shawn Achor -The_Happy Secret to Better Work

Dan Gilbert - Asks Why Are We Happy

Matthieu Ricard-On the Habits of Happiness Mind training

The Authentic Happiness Website has some valuable tools to measure your strengths which will help you to find happiness at http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx

The Awakening of Sean Mulvihill, Living Luminaries on the Serious Business of Happiness, www.awakeningofseanmulvihill.com"

The Emotional Life - Available on Netflix

Harvard psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Daniel Gilbert (Stumbling on Happiness) hosts this three-part PBS series that explores the range of human emotions and how we can strive to become more positive in our day-to-day lives. The program examines the biological basis of happiness, the role of relationships and the ways in which we can cope with negative emotions.


Adams, Michael (2001) Better Happy Than Rick, Canadians, Money and the Meaning of Life, Toronto: Penguin
Aronson, B.C. (2008) Secrets to Happiness, Uplifting Quotes for Everyday Life, New York: Gramercy Books
Christakis, Nicholas and James H. Fowler (2009) Connected, The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, New York Little Brown and Company
Cooper, Diana (1991) Light Up Your Your Life, Discover Your True Purpose and Potential
Covey, Stephen R (1997)The 7 Habits of Highly Effective families, New York: Golden Books
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1997) Finding Flow, The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
Debono, Edward (1977) The Happiness Purpose, Harmondsworth: Penquin Books
Flora, Carlin (2009) The Pursuit of Happiness Psychology Today February 2009
Gilbert, Daniel (2006) Stumbling on Happiness, New York: Random House
Grayling, A.C. (2003) What is Good?, The Search for the Best Way to Live London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Haidt, Jonathan (2006) The Happiness Hypothesis, Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom,New York: Basic Books
Kaufman, Barry Neil (1991) Happiness is a Choice, New York: Random House
Kant, Immanuel, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
Keltner, Dacher (2009) Born to be Good, The Science of A Meaningful Life New York: W.W. Norton & Company
Kingwell, Mark (1998) Better Living, in Pursuit of Happiness from plato to Prozac, Toronto: Viking
Kushner, Harold  When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't  Enough, The Search for a Life That Matters,  New York: Simon & Schuster
Layard, Richard (2005) Happiness, Lessons from a New Science, London: Penguin Books
Leibow, David  (1995) Love Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, Toronto: Viking
Marrinoff, Lou  (1999) Plato Not Prozac!, Applying Philosophy to Everyday Problems,  New York: Harper Collins
Mcccready, Stuart (2001) The Discovery of Happiness, Naperville: MQ Publications
McMahon, Darrin M. (2006) Happiness, A History, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press
Morris, Tom (1999) Philosophy for Dummies, Foster City, CA,IDG Books
Pargament, Kenneth I (1979) The Psychology of Religion and Coping, Theory, Research, Practice
Peterson, Christopher and Martin E.P. Seligman (2004) Character Strengths and Virtues, A Handbook and ClassificationOxford: Oxford University Press
Rath, Tom and Jim Harter (2010) Well Being, The Five Essential Elements, Gallup Press
Ratey, John T with Eric Hagerman(2008) Spark, The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain, New York: Little Brown and Company
Russell, Betrand (1958) The Congress of Happiness, New York: Liveright
Segal, Jerome M (1999) Graceful Simplicity, Towards a Philosophy and Politics of Simple Living, New York: Henry Holt and Company
Seligman, Martin E.P(2002) Authentic Happiness, New York: Free Press
Seligman, Martin E.P. (2011) Flourish, A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing
Shimoff, Marcia (2008) Happy for No Reason, New York: Free Press
Siegel, Daniel J (2010) Mindsight, The New Science of Personal Transformation, New York: Bantam Books
Sinetar, Marsha (1987) Do What you Love The Money Will Follow, New York: Dell Publishing
Sinetar, Marsha (1987) To Build the Life You Want, Create the Work You Love New York: St Martin’s Press
Wilkinson, Richard and kate Pickett (2009) The Spirit Level, Why Equality is Better for Everyone, London: Penquin Books