Thinking about happiness (one of those things we often take for granted) is interesting. And discussing happiness is clarifying and beneficial to our health, growth, and general welfare.
Some dictionaries don’t even define happiness, or merely list it as a derivative of the adjective happy. But happiness, as discussed here, is more than a feeling, it is a state of being. So, what does it mean to achieve happiness?
Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary gives several different explanations in its definition: “the enjoyment of pleasure without pain; felicity; blessedness; satisfaction; good luck; good fortune; fortuitous elegance.” It takes some time to think about each of these.
Wikipedia notes the Smiley Face to be a “well-known symbol of happiness” before defining happiness as “an emotion associated with feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense joy.”
In a study of current youth. MTV defined happiness: “Happiness is… from the inside out or outside in… the combination of what you’re born with, what you like to feel, how involved you are with people, and your view of the bigger picture.” That gives us even more for discussion.
What these researchers were getting at is that personal wellbeing from the inside out begins with our unique endowments of health, genetics, age and so forth. Then, pleasure or what makes us feel good at the moment, Engagement or Connections with family, school/work, romance and hobbies, leading to Meaning or the bigger picture, serving some kind of larger purpose. Happiness considered from the outside-in reverses that process. Just talking about this in a family, classroom or youth group should lead to important insights.
Fleeting pleasures, more lasting contentment, genuine and holistic happiness which the Hebrews described as shalom and the Bible speaks of as blessedness are important matters for discussion. It is also helpful to contrast chemical highs to natural highs-getting drunk to arriving on a mountain top just in time for a wonderful sunrise.
We are interested in what makes people, especially young people, happy. Are young people generally happy today? Are they more or less happy than youth of a decade, 25 years, or a century ago?
To find out we’ve put a Happiness Survey into this site (which you can find on the Home Page). We hope here to keep an (unscientific but informative) tally from teenagers themselves.
A good way to get at happiness is to tell stories about our happy times in contrast to unhappy ones. A family or group could then look at happiness in literature and film-thinking about really happy characters or situations.
Happiness needs to be considered physically (biologically) and emotionally (or psychologically). This will lead to consideration of happiness or well-being from both philosophical and religious perspectives.
Traditionally or classically, happiness was seen as living a good life, a life of balance (or harmonia, Gr.) called eudaimonia by the Greeks and shalom by the Jews. The book of Psalms begins by describing the blessed or good person in contrast to the wicked, with metaphors of a fruitful tree versus chaff (discarded shells of grain). Jesus began the famous Sermon on the Mount with “Blessed’s” which are called beatitudes. Has modern society substituted, usually purchased, pleasures for this idea of living a just and good life?
This topic will go on to consider studies of world happiness. One of these has found the self-reported happiest people in Canada and Scandinavian countries; those just happy in the U.S., Western Europe, Spain, Arabia and Australia, while those reporting themselves to be least happy with their lives were found in Mexico, southern and eastern South America, the USSR and Mongolia.
Research in the U.S. has found the “correlatives to happiness to include religious involvement, parenthood, marital status, age, income and proximity to other happy people.” (Wikipedia) Researchers must rely on self-reporting in these studies.
We, here, want to bring this back to happy children and youth, happy families, neighborhoods and cities.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Have you given much thought to happiness? How would you define happiness?
What was the happiest time of your life? What made it so?
Do you think everyone want to find happiness? Who or why not, and in what way?
Can you distinguish different kinds of happiness (say from superficial and temporary to deep and lasting)?
How unfortunate might a person be who never considers the idea of happiness and feels unhappy most of the time? What would you say or how could you encourage such a person?
How do you respond to the classical idea that happiness comes out of the good life, the life well-lived?
What do you think of the religious idea of happiness as the result of obedience to God’s will, to finding the best in life with God’s help?
Happiness is important to everyone, but perhaps especially to young people.
And yet, those who teach and work with young people, including the Church, have not discussed this topic much with them.
Clear thinking about happiness can lead to happier living, to the building of stronger character, and to a more just society.
Individual happiness needs to be considered along with corporate or group happiness.
Some cities and nations of the world today may be described as very unjust and unhappy; others more peaceful and happy.
Whether religious or not, whether secular or faith-based, we all have a responsibility to talk about a happy society, a good society, a just society.