What is Happiness in Life

What is Happiness in Life? [Happiness Definition]

90% of your long-term happiness is based on how your brain processes events. These seemingly invisible emotions, such as happiness, are interesting to study because we can track patterns in the physical form and thus be able to show and track material changes from something seemingly invisible.

What is The Definition of Happiness

Happiness is defined on dictionary.com as good fortune, contentment, pleasure, and joy.

Happiness in life can mean different things to different people. But the answer for most lies in being content in your own life. Not wanting. A feeling of being fulfilled. Being excited to wake up every day and having a total, unwavering realization of being blessed.

However, how it is currently recognized differs a little from this. Perhaps that’s the issue with describing emotions. It isn’t easy to pinpoint precisely what something is because it is experienced differently by different people.

What is Happiness in Life?
What is Happiness in Life?

As you will see, the seminally simple concept of happiness is relatively difficult to define.

Perhaps due to the ever-changing nature of how the word is used in context or maybe the idea is more complex than we give it credit for.

The varying definitions seem to exist in a sort of paradox. 

What Do We Know About Happiness?

What we do know is that our external state doesn’t affect happiness. Shawn Achor (1) says that if we were to know everything about a person, every circumstance, where they live, what they do, etc. We would only predict 10% of their long-term happiness because 90% of long-term happiness is based on how your brain processes events.

Happiness, in its simplest definition, is a state of positive emotion. Not to be confused with pleasure. Although the two words are similar, pleasure refers to a more physical emotion that is quickly passing, while happiness seems to refer to something more lingering. 

Happiness Quote – Shawn Achor

Happiness Around The World

When viewing the word happiness from an etymology standpoint, one common factor that we see across languages is the essence of the word “luck” in its definition.

This gives us an understanding of how cultures view happiness and how it used to be considered something that would happen by chance but not something that people could control.

It infers it is considered more of a bonus to life than a necessity or central component (2). 

What Does It Mean To Be Happy

Long term happiness stems from feeling in control of your life.

However, since happiness varies from person to person, it is essential to stick with the central concept when viewing happiness, which is a positive emotion deriving from being content and viewing the world how it is in the present.

Happiness in Psychology

Apart from the positive psychology movement (Founded partially by Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD), the campaign focuses on enhancing the good in life rather than fixing the bad.

The practice’s focus is behavior characteristics leading to a goal and discovering better ways to be happy.

In a business setting, positive effects have to be maintained to keep people in a more constant state of being happy. 

Quadrants That Make Up The Human Experience

According to Tal Ben Shahar, PhD.(3)

Four quadrants can summarize the human experience: Hedonism, Rat Race, Nihilism, and Happiness

On a graph, Hedonism and Happiness refer to positive emotion in the present while Rat Race and Nihilism describe dissatisfaction.


Hedonism Quote
Hedonism Quote – Rita Mae Brown

Hedonism refers to a state in which someone seeks pleasure and immediate satisfaction with a goal to avoid pain.

This satisfaction is typically something that would harm them in the future but in the moment is joyful.

An example could be someone who is lactose intolerant eating a bunch of cheese. At the moment, it may feel good, but in the future, they might have a stomach ache.

Rat Race

In what feels like the opposite, you have the idea of Rat Race, which is suffering in the present for projected future gain. An example is staying up cramming for an exam.

In the present, you suffer a lack of sleep, maybe the subject matter is tedious or difficult, but the reward for such is the idea that you will get a good grade if you study well for a test.

What is the rat race of life? Great question! Modern society seems to be full of people competing at a frantic level for power and money.

What is the rat race of life
What is the rat race of life?

Another example is working very hard so you can buy a fancy car, lots of toys, and a big house. “Keeping up with the Jones” is a famous saying.

The results of being consumed in the ‘rat race’ of life can be physically exhaustion, mental fatigue and poor health.


You may be thinking “what is nihilism?” Nihilism essentially refers to despair. It means believing in, well, basically nothing.

It originates from the Latin word “nihil” which you can probably guess means literally “nothing”.

People who are nihilists pretty much have determined in their own minds that life has no meaning and they have rejected religion and morals.

what is nihilism
What is Nihilism?

It’s the idea of losing your lust for life. You find yourself not enjoying the present or the prospects of the future. Nihilism could be feeling as if you have no future sense of purpose.

Famous Nihilist

  • King Solomon (King of Israel, Son of David, Richest Man Ever)
  • Niccolò Machiavelli (Italian political philosopher from the 1500’s)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (German philosopher from the late1800’s)
  • Andy Warhol (American Artist, Film Director)
  • Ernest Hemingway (American Novelist)


Happiness constitutes the complete experience holding both present and future benefits.

Happiness benefits life because people having happiness are secure in knowing that the activities giving present joy will also lead to a fulfilling future.

These quadrants coexist to make up life, but the goal is to increase the amount of time you spend in the happiness quadrant. 

definition of happiness
Definition of Happiness – Joseph Addison

Why is Happiness Important

The concept of happiness lies in living longer and healthier lives.

By being conscious of our production of happiness and working towards increasing it, not only will we be leading happier lives, but we will also be able to better cope with hardships that come our way.

By being able to navigate through both the good and bad times, not only will we increase our ability to help ourselves, but we will increase our ability to help our community and the people around us.

If we can change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way we affect (our) reality

Shawn Achor

The Happiness Advantage

Shawn Achor did a Ted talk called “The Happiness Advantage” The idea of The Happiness Advantage is that happiness releases dopamine in the brain, and dopamine turns on all the learning centers, allowing you to adapt to your world differently.

This gives people experiencing happiness a psychological advantage in terms of career and productivity and overall all aspects of your life.

In terms of career, happy people are better at securing jobs, better at keeping jobs, experience superior productivity, are more resilient to challenges, experience less burnout, less turnover, and overall greater sales.

When someone’s levels of positivity are raised, their performance rises by 37%.

You can train your brain to view the world more optimistically in as little as 2 minutes a day for 21 days, and it rewires your brain, allowing you to work more successfully.

being positive means
Being Positive Means…

Instead of viewing the negative first, your brain will learn to scan the world for positives before negatives. 

Happiness in Philosophy

In philosophy, happiness is usually referred to as two different things.

First, your state of mind matters greatly. Second, you have a life that is going the way you want it to. The first version of happiness we talked about in the psychology section.

The second reference to happiness as a life that goes well for the person leading it requires someone to make a value judgment. What would be suitable for someone would be different for someone else.

Furthermore, the idea of being good for someone differs from just being good, period. Something may not always be good for you if it requires self-sacrifice.

Circling back to the idea of a value judgment, if two people have different values, their ideas of what makes them happy will differ. (4)

When talking about happiness in philosophy, it is recognized on different levels.

The definition has been shifted and used in so many different contexts on the surface it is hard to distinguish between happiness and other positive mood outlooks. 

An excellent article tackling this concept is titled “What Is Happiness?”(5) By Benjamin Radcliff PH.D.

In his article, he runs through three different levels of happiness to help readers distinguish the difference in their day to day lives. 

happiness philosophy
Happiness Philosophy – Abraham Lincoln

What Is Happiness?

Happiness is distinguished in this article on three levels.

Level 1) Balance between positive and negative emotions.

Level 2) Our conscious long term judgments about life in general. 

Level 3) Focuses on finding meaning in life.

Level 1 Happiness

The study refers to measuring one’s current emotional state.

If there was a way to monitor one’s emotions over time, continually their general happiness could be calculated.

This method is relatively objective since it would report the same score for any other person reporting the same amount of positive/ negative emotions.

This is also implying that all positive emotions are happiness. 

Level 2 Happiness

The second level refers to a conscious evaluation of one’s life.

The first level would compare the sum of good and bad emotions; the second level would add a value scale and weigh the degree of how good and bad the experienced feelings are.

This would view happiness as something stable as if it were apart of one’s personality rather than a series of moments that partakes in someone’s life.

This allows one to judge for themself what happiness is rather than reduce the idea based on someone else’s judgment.

A common thought or definition related to happiness than it is about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. This goes in line with the hedonism outlook.

But, since it relies on more than just feelings and requires one to determine what elements that a person considers in their life to be happy. 

When using judgments to define happiness, judgments may depend on one’s culture and environment.

They may lie about how they feel because it is socially desirable to feel or not to feel a certain way. Thus people may claim they are happier than they are.

Also, people may get used to a negative environment, report surprisingly high life satisfaction levels based on comparison to those having worse lives or the negative environment setting a new sense of normalcy.

When using level 2, it is essential to consider one’s life circumstances because our general quality of life can be unconsciously affected based on expectations that we may have for it.

Level 3 Happiness

The third level is a life that maximizes purpose. It takes ideas from philosophy and spirituality. A solid summary of the third level can be found in Socrates’ dictum “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

This means taking a step back, examining our reasonings for things, and having cognizant ideals based on values.

It encourages us to continually question ourselves and give us the potential for infinite growth. 

 So with the three levels, we have one that is judged by other people, one that is judged by yourself, and one that is less of an emotion and more of a way of life and well being.

These concepts in general can be found throughout positive psychology in many different forms.

Steps to Bring Happiness Into Your Life on a Daily Basis

 Conquer Negative Thoughts

Do not deny them but focus on challenging them and questioning why they are there. Look for the reason as to why you hold specific thoughts.

Are your ideas based on facts or feelings? How might someone else handle this situation?

 View Life From An Alternate Perspective

Going farther than just thinking about specific events but turning your views of life on its head and practicing other points of view allows you to diversify your thinking ways.

Actively Practice Optimism

Surround yourself with optimistic people.

Like pessimism, optimism is contagious, and by having a more positive view of life, you can increase your levels of positive emotion.

In conclusion, there are various ways depending on how you decide to look at it in which you may view what the meaning of happiness is.

More than just an emotion, it can refer to a state of life and being. The main take away is what happiness can do for you?

What can you do with knowing these ideas and definitions? How can you take these into your life to make it better?

Always be on top of yourself and question yourself. How can I lead a better, more fulfilling life for me and those around me?

In the end, it’s the concepts that happiness can teach that will allow you to get the most out of life.


1) Shawn Achor, “The Happiness Advantage” 

2) Jasper Bergink, “Determining the world’s happiness map: From ‘Mutluluk’ to ‘shiawase” http://www.forastateofhappiness.com/determining-the-worlds-happiness-map-from-mutluluk-to-shiawase/

3) Tal Ben Shahar, PHD, “ How To Be Happier- Happier by Tal Ben Shahar, PHD”

4) “Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy” https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/happiness/

5) Benjamin Radcliff “What Is Happiness?” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-economy-happiness/202002/what-is-happiness

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