Happiness – It’s Complicated – Jeffbullas’s Blog

At the end of my weekly podcast I ask my guests a question: “What makes you happy?” And despite the simple question, there is a problem. 

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It’s a suitcase word. One word with many meanings. It’s complicated.

When I open up the black box of what happiness is, there are many definitions: 

  • For some, the interpretation of happiness can be superficial. Fleeting joy.  Maybe even hedonic. 
  • As for the others, it has a deeper philosophical meaning, where they mention that it is “a sense of fulfillment, meaning and purpose”. Slow burning and deep happiness. 
  • For the complicated, it will be a collective menagerie. An ecosystem of elements and a “happiness” recipe that will make their life “happy”.  
  • Multicultural happiness…something so complicated that it deserves its own post category. 

So…I am now a bit confused on what to ask. Because my question has many interpretations, nuances and multiple possible answers. I feel like I am confusing myself and others.

I am hopeful that out of this primordial soup will come some truth. And a better question to ask.

So what does happiness look like?

I now know the word “happiness” can have several meanings, depending on the context in which it is used. 

Here are the two distilled interpretations:

For some, happiness is transient. A fleeting emotional state. 

For others, it is deep, existential fulfillment.

I quite like both. 

But despite 2 distilled categories there are also 8 other types of happiness that need to be on your watch list.

  1. Emotional State: The most common meaning of happiness is the feeling of joy, contentment, or positive well-being. This encompasses feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, often as a result of achieving one’s goals or desires. I do like a “happy” emotional state.
  2. Life Satisfaction: In a broader sense, happiness can refer to a general sense of satisfaction with one’s life as a whole, rather than just momentary feelings. This includes a sense of fulfillment and achievement in various aspects of life, like career, relationships, and personal growth.  
  3. Eudaimonia: In philosophy, particularly in the context of Aristotle’s works, happiness (translated from the Greek term ‘eudaimonia’) is understood as the highest human good, representing not just a fleeting emotion but a state of flourishing and fulfilling one’s potential.
  4. Subjective Well-being: In psychology, happiness is often equated with subjective well-being, which includes an individual’s personal assessment of their overall life satisfaction, emotional experiences, and sense of purpose.
  5. Hedonic Happiness: This refers to the aspect of happiness that is about pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance. It is associated with immediate, short-term gratification.
  6. Altruistic Happiness: Sometimes, happiness is found in the wellbeing of others. Acts of kindness and altruism can bring about a sense of happiness that is tied to the joy or relief of others.
  7. Cultural Interpretations: Different cultures may have unique interpretations of happiness, influenced by cultural values, societal norms, and historical context. What constitutes happiness in one culture may be different in another. In Hollywood it means “shopping.”
  8. Spiritual or Religious Happiness: In some spiritual or religious contexts, happiness may be tied to a sense of peace, inner harmony, or spiritual enlightenment, often transcending material or worldly pursuits.

 So, in looking (and asking people) about what happiness means  I have discovered that it’s complicated.  

What does happiness not look like?

Avoiding unhappiness is maybe more important than seeking happiness. Avoid these and maybe you will fall into joy.

While happiness is subjective and can vary widely from person to person and the messy interpretation of one word, there are certain situations that are commonly associated with a decrease in happiness or well-being. 

Below are 15 elements that will make you unhappy. These need to be avoided.

This is a bullshit detector list on the people and environments that can hi-jack your joy and are to be deselected and blocked from your life.

Avoid these and life will be happier.

  1. Chronic Stress: Prolonged stress can lead to burnout, anxiety, and a decrease in overall happiness. If you are stressed then run away from its source.
  2. Loneliness and Social Isolation: Humans are social creatures, and a lack of meaningful social connections can negatively impact happiness. Be social and choose friends and social connections that allow you to thrive. 
  3. Poor Health: Both physical and mental health issues can significantly reduce a person’s happiness. Choose to exercise and look after your mental state. 
  4. Financial Problems: While money itself is a complex factor in happiness, financial instability and the stress of not being able to meet basic needs can lead to unhappiness. Avoid debt.
  5. Unfulfilling Work: Spending a large part of life in a job that is unfulfilling, stressful, or misaligned with personal values can decrease happiness. Choose a career that doesn’t steal your soul. 
  6. Lack of Autonomy: Feeling out of control in one’s life, whether personally or professionally, can lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Sometimes we hand over the keys to control for the sake of money. 
  7. Negative Mindset: Chronic negativity, pessimism, and an inability to see positive aspects in life can foster unhappiness. Practice gratefulness.
  8. Comparing Oneself to Others: Engaging in social comparison, especially in the age of social media, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness. Avoid social media. “It will make you compare your insides to the superficial outsides of others”.
  9. Lack of Purpose or Meaning: Not having a sense of purpose, goals, or meaning in life can lead to a feeling of emptiness and decreased happiness. “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain” – Joseph Campbell.
  10. Unresolved Trauma or Grief: Past traumas or ongoing grief that haven’t been addressed can continue to affect a person’s happiness. If you choose to continue to wallow in the past rather than rise and thrive in the present then life will be a journey of ongoing trauma.
  11. Toxic Relationships: Being in relationships that are abusive, manipulative, or otherwise toxic can greatly diminish well-being and happiness. My take again, “Don’t hang out with turkeys.” This means lovers, colleagues, partners and friends.
  12. Materialism: Overemphasis on material possessions as a source of happiness often leads to disappointment, as material goods do not provide lasting fulfillment. Choose experiences over “stuff”.
  13. Lack of Sleep and Poor Lifestyle Choices: Neglecting physical health, like lack of sleep, poor diet, and insufficient exercise, can negatively impact mental well-being. Buy a health and exercise tracking watch and keep an eye on your health stats. It is a technology assistant but not a perfect answer.
  14. Environmental Factors: Living in an environment that is unsafe, unhealthy, or un-stimulating can contribute to unhappiness. I was born lucky as I happened to turn up as a baby in Australia. I also wasn’t born next to a nuclear power plant that leaked.
  15. Unrealistic Expectations: Setting unachievable goals or having unrealistic expectations about life can lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction.

It’s important to mention that the impact of these factors can vary greatly depending on individual circumstances, resilience, and coping mechanisms.

It’s also worth noting that the presence of one or more of these factors doesn’t guarantee unhappiness; people often find ways to maintain or regain happiness despite challenging circumstances.

And, a quick tip.

One of the fast routes to happiness that I keep telling my kids, “If you want to fly like an eagle, don’t hang out with the turkeys”.  Great relationships have been shown to be the biggest contributor to happiness.

Last words

I have now decoded that happiness is many things to many people. I opened the suitcase and found a multitude. A chorus of meanings. A choir with many voices.

But there are some unhappiness elements that can get in the way. These are universal. Avoid these if you can and you increase your chances of happiness.

I don’t chase happiness. But I choose happiness. And I do my best to avoid the 15 key factors that can steal my joy.

So what’s a better question on what makes you happy?

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