If it’s a birthday, Christmas, New Years or any other special occasion we often wish people happiness. We say “I wish you always be happy!”, “have lots of happiness”, “Hope it’s a beginning of a year full of happiness!”, Etc. Many would agree that being happy is something that is the purpose of life itself. But what is happiness? Does happiness mean the same to me as it does to others? And if we consider happiness as sensation, does this represent the same feeling to us all?
Questions like these bother me, as I am a person looking for ways to alleviate the symptoms of depression. After realising that only medication will not be sufficient, I engaged in finding answers to questions that trouble me. So, what is the meaning of the word we all use frequently? I looked up the suggestions provided by the most popular dictionaries, guessing that there are some paths discussed already. Here are some findings. Vocabulary.com indicates that happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. Dictionary.com defines it as not only a state but also as a quality of being happy. Wikipedia makes a distinction between philosophical definition (happiness is a manifestation of eudaimonia which refers to a good life, or flourishing), and psychological (happiness is a condition of a person experiencing pleasure and contentment). Rubin Khoddam in his article on Psychology Today provides a selection of ideas on what happiness is. To sum it all up, if you write down in a google search ‘what is happiness?’ you will get about 31,600,000 results, and that’s only in English.
Coming across a plethora of definitions and suggestions, I started feeling discombobulated of why is it so difficult to find one answer. Of course, we are all different and distinct things bring us joy, however, why can’t we even identify and agree if happiness is a state, an emotion, a sensation, a condition, a quality or God knows what else. It started haunting me because we all want to be happy, we all seek to experience it, and this abundance of distinct ideas does not help. Perhaps, that’s one of the reasons why many of us struggle to feel happy in the first place. When you are not sure what you are looking for, how can you find it?
Feeling perplexed by these thoughts, I realised that what if the confusion comes from the long and complicated descriptions of something that should be comprehensible to us all. When you are a kid, and you hear a new word and ask your parent what is the meaning of it, the best is to provide an answer by giving a one-word definition. The same works when learning a new language – the longer the explanation, the more complex is the meaning and the usage of it. What if we could answer this mystery by finding only one word that represents happiness the best. Thus, I asked myself, if there was an equation what would I choose to be placed instead of an ‘x’ in the formula ‘X = happiness’. The first thought that came to my mind was ‘freedom’.
I asked people on Facebook what do they think. Somehow I felt that many people would define happiness as freedom too, of course, based on my biased perspective. The question was formulated as follows: “When you think of happiness what is the first word that comes to your mind which defines it?”
Not surprisingly, there were many different answers. All valid, all accurate because there is no incorrect one. Some people choose the word ‘smile’ to answer this question. I agree that smiling is something happy people do, thus, perhaps smiling could be considered as a visualisation of happiness. Smiling equals being happy. However, do we always smile when we are happy? Sometimes we smile to provoke a certain reaction from the person we are talking to, and sometimes we cry because we are experiencing something very positive, while crying and tears typically would be considered as an expression of grief. Also, the ones struggling with depression can smile a lot while feeling nothing inside. Thus, the following question to the ones who answered ‘smile’ is ‘what makes you smile’?
Why would I raise that question? Since ‘happiness’ means ‘freedom’ to me, it got me thinking, why? What does freedom mean to me? Once I know what I mean by it, I could try to achieve it, start working towards that specific choice of my mind and consequently that would make me happy. Thus, if a smile is an expression of manifested happiness then knowing what makes you smile could give you suggestions of what activities to engage yourself into the most.
No? To me, it seemed like a formula that should work. Thus, I will try to figure out what Freedom means to me, but that’s for other time. This time is about happiness. Whether that is freedom, serenity, pleasure, adventure, personal fulfilment, love, acceptance, fullness, travelling, family, peace, calmness, joy, etc. Whatever that is you choose to complete the formula this is your unconscious guidance, the navigation system and the compass direction towards what you seek and value the most. Have a look; maybe you already have what you answered that defines your happiness? If so, perhaps the issue is with appreciation and gratitude, enjoying what is. You decided by choosing that word as a definition of happiness, thus, now the only thing that is missing is you letting yourself enjoy it.
The Chinese language has an interesting word 秘诀, which means a secret of know-how, a secret of happiness or longevity, the recipe for success. Also, the thought-provoking thing is that in the Chinese language, which is it’s culture’s mirror, happiness and longevity often are synonyms. Could we say that ancient Chinese believed happiness being longevity?
However, even the idea of achieving the longevity seems already quite a complicated matter; it is not that easy to just put an equation for the meaning of what happiness is in ancient Chinese culture. While to discuss this profoundly takes years of studying ancient books, its commentaries and related writings, let’s look into summarised versions of this old Mother Civilization of the Far East. Let’s concentrate on what this post is aiming to discuss the most – a shortcut formula for finding happiness if it’s possible to simplify it that much.
Let’s come back to the very beginning of this post mentioning that we all wish happiness to each other when an occasion comes. Chinese have a word which is used the most when doing that and it is 福. This character stands for happiness, good-fortune or blessing. Being represented by a bat due to its linguistical similarities, it is also a character you will often see China, especially during the most important celebration of the beginning of Chinese New Years. There are Five Blessings or 五福 Wufu that are linked with Chinese Cosmology, Daoism and 五行. Based on the Book of Documents, one of the most important ancient texts, those aforementioned WuFu are: Longevity (simp. 长寿 changshou, trad. 壽 shou ), Wealth (simp. 富贵fugui, trad. 富gui), Good Health (simp. 康宁 kangning, trad. 康寧), Love of Virtue (好德haode), and a Peaceful Natural Death (考终命kaozhongming).
However, the Urban Dictionary says that WuFu means something else in today’s widely English speaking world. It’s an abbreviation of Woke up Fucked up – WuFu, indicating a state when you get up with a blackout of the previous night’s events as a consequence of excessive drinking. Is there any link between these two homophones? Perhaps not, even though the English word WuFu quite often indicates that you had fun last night which could be associated with happiness.
What if looking into only to the word 福 Fu (happiness, blessing, good fortune) itself? Maybe that suggests a simplified version. And it does: the character is composed of two radicals 礻shi and 富fu. While the first stands for a cult, the latter means wealth. Does this mean the worship of wealth? Not really, again, that is too simple consider that way. Perhaps, looking for answers in another culture might take too long even though it could be rewarding when gaining a lot of new knowledge.
Reading the thoughts and teachings of others can be very inspiring and bring new ideas on my own. Happiness is so many things that in the end it becomes anything and everything that is associated with the positivity and feeling good. Maybe all of the answers together are the truth? But then it seems too much to handle and too much to try to achieve.
I guess I will have to stick to something that is the closest to me – my answer. Freedom. When it comes to my journey the first step to take is to question my mind and analyse its responses. Freedom – that is the next word I need to find the meaning of. And all of us should do the same – have a look into your solution that your mind suggests. Exploring it might even change the initial answer, cause there is a possibility that we already have what we aim to find when searching for happiness. It’s only the noise in our minds that disturbs us from seeing it.