Happiness: what a beautiful word Have you ever wondered where it comes from? Have you ever wondered what it means to you? Have you ever wondered why we all look for it? In these lines you may discover your own answers to start discovering how you are happy.

The concept of happiness

Since the foundation of civilization until today, many people have reflected on this construct that we call happiness, so, as Elsa Punset rightly writes in Felices , the study of happiness “more than discovery, is a reunion” with the reflections and conclusions of other humans before us .

Other humans who were and are thinkers, explorers of different cultures, artists, poets, neuroscientists who study the brain, philosophers who “love knowledge”, sociologists who analyze society, anthropologists who compare cultures, psychologists who, in their “study of the mind”, try to unravel the mental web that is the logos or knowledge about human happiness.

Its etymological origin , therefore, also depends on the civilization observed. On the one hand, it is related to the Greek root Eudaimonia (eudaimonia) which literally means “good fortune”.

If we break down the word into its two elements: eu, which means “good”, and give us the meaning of “divinity”, the key to happiness was placed by the Greeks in one who is of good spirit, or who is of good mind.

The same thing happens in Anglo-Saxon countries by appealing to the concept of “favorable luck”, as in the meaning of Happiness, which comes from Happen: to happen by chance. Or we can also understand it in German, Glück, from Gelingen, which literally means “to have good success”; let’s note then that in English Luck (or Good luck) is equivalent to the German word Glück.

The mental side of the happy person

From a cognitive point of view, happiness can be described as a series of thoughts about our emotions that produce an inner, deep and lasting well-being. The same definition from the Real Academia Española (RAE), we could think, confirms the above mentioned:

Happiness; from the lat. congratulations, -atis.
f. State of pleasant spiritual and physical satisfaction.
f. Person, situation, object or set of them that contribute to being happy.
f. Absence of inconvenience or setbacks.

At present, this has generated a recurrent confusion between the terms eudaimony and hedonism (hedoné-ἡδονη), since, as promulgated by positive psychology, the purpose of human life is happiness, sometimes understood – erroneously – as pleasure, (Cfr Bueno, 2005; Lozano et al., 2016) in Colmenarejo Fernández, R. (2017). And I say erroneously because pleasure is not equal to happiness, but pleasure by definition must always be relegated to a part of our complete happiness. I will develop this idea in my next article.

Perhaps the purpose of human life is not to live happily, but only to live. Would it not be more appropriate to understand pleasure as a means and not as an end?
The difference, then, is that while hedonism focuses on immediate pleasure, which today we might call joy, eudaimony is the constant fullness of living life, which today we might call happiness.

Beyond definitions

Happiness is a subject that everyone thinks about but few people study it. Although we may never agree on the exact definition of happiness, this is more like one of those things that you can’t define, but when you see it you know what it is . And the reality is that each individual, according to the culture in which he is irremediably immersed, and his personal experiences, shapes throughout his life a concept about his own happiness.

During my research on the subject, I have been realizing that the search for happiness is something very relevant in our current society, since it involves many people, and most human beings want to be happy.

At the time of writing, I have a sample of 275 people between the ages of 7 and 108. With 66% women and 34% men, the vast majority of whom are Spanish nationals. 50% live in urban areas and 50% live in rural areas. The current occupation is to study or work, or both.

The key question

The first question I ask someone who wants to know how happy they are is: How are you?

In general, most people say they are “fine”. Okay, people are fine, but being fine doesn’t necessarily mean being happy. And the results show that 9 out of 10 people will tell you that they are looking for happiness . The remaining person also thinks so, but will not tell you so.

But what is happiness? Fernandez-Berrocal already wrote in his article that “the attempt to answer this question may seem pretentious and it is natural that the reader thinks so, because even the one who asks the question has his hand shaking while writing it”. I think the same thing is happening to me.

But that doesn’t worry me, and it shouldn’t worry you, either. Because what I propose (and perhaps this is the key to the necessary paradigm shift) is to ask ourselves how people are happy, instead of asking ourselves again and again what happiness is . In this way, just by changing a passive what for a proactive how, we will come to understand happiness as a personal decision and not as an object that can -or should- be achieved.

The message is clear: the study of happiness and all that it entails is a subject of the utmost importance for the human species. If we live happily, we live more and better.
In the end, what you will realize is that, although reflection on happiness is left to a few, the search for happiness is universal.

Bibliographic references:

  • Colmenarejo Fernández, R. (2017). The problem of happiness in Aristotle: answers from Francisco Suárez and Martha Nussbaum. Anales de La Cátedra Francisco Suárez, 51, 27-27.
  • Julian Perez Porto and Maria Merino. Published: 2009. Updated: 2009. Definition.of: Definition of Happiness (https://definicion.de/felicidad/).
  • The five thieves of happiness. John Izzo, 2017 (Uranus).
  • To answer the online questionnaire about happiness, enter the following link: https://goo.gl/forms/gMHJcbvLRRiQCrew2.