Being in a State of Well-Being and Contentment
If you’ve read any of our articles on wellness, you may remember us mentioning the pillars of wellness model. As we recently celebrated Wellness Week with Herren in early March and we embark on World Happiness Day, I’d like to draw attention to wellness and its relationship with happiness.
Happiness is often defined as “a state of well-being and contentment.” When we think about being happy, what comes to mind? Is it a sense of joy? Elation? Feeling ecstatic? Or is it more nuanced than that? Perhaps comfort, work, and personal life satisfaction or spiritual fulfillment are what make you happy. Either way, if we are to say, “I am happy,” we use to term to describe an internal feeling that is personal to us. If two people were in a room and both stated that they were happy, their emotions to describe the sense of “being happy” may be entirely different. Therefore, if we think of happiness as an umbrella term for a broader range of positive emotions, it makes the pursuit of happiness a little easier to undertake. So, happiness is a range of positive emotions that differ greatly depending on the person, but what does it take to be happy?
We all want to be happy, but it’s harder than just turning on a switch. For centuries, happiness has been the subject of meticulous study to many philosophers and scientific researchers alike, as it is described as “life’s greatest pursuit.” Some argue that happiness is more than the absence of negative emotions, while others claim happiness is found in the balance of both positive and negative emotions. The phrase “happiness begins from within” is used a lot in many self-help circles, and it makes sense — the positive emotions that we attribute to happiness are unique to us. However, how often have you heard the phrase, “what makes you happy?” In a way, the question itself contradicts the idea that happiness starts from within, as it implies an outside source is responsible for your happiness. In other words, if someone were to ask me, “what makes you happy?” I would respond by mentioning my family, my dogs, my work, etc. All of these being external influences on my sense of happiness.
So, What is Happiness?
Is happiness something internal that relies on our outlook on life, or is it the people, places, and things that bring meaning to our lives? The answer, I believe, is found somewhere in between. Let’s explore that a little bit and find out what it means to be truly happy and how to sustain a comfortable life through wellness.
First, we must engage in some meaningful introspection to find out what happiness means to us. If happiness is being in a state of well-being and contentment (according to Webster’s dictionary), it is important to know what factors contribute to living in a position of well-being and contentment. This is where the pillars of wellness play their role. If you are unaware, the pillars of wellness model is a guide to achieving optimal holistic health and wellness, which are:
- Physical — Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep
- Emotional — Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships
- Social — Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system
- Spiritual — Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life
- Intellectual — Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
- Financial — Satisfaction with current and future financial situations
- Occupational — Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work
- Environmental — Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being
You can read about the pillars in more detail here, but the short of it describes the necessity of these pillars for a life of wellness or well-being. Since happiness relies on being in a state of well-being, holistic health can be attributed, in part, to one’s overall happiness. You may also have noticed that the pillars engage both internal and external factors. Social, occupational, environment all rely on sources outside of the self, thus reiterating the idea that happiness and wellness are the product of the harmony found between internal and external influences.
Can Happiness be Misconstrued?
So, if happiness is being in a position of well-being and contentment, what are some of the ways happiness is misconstrued? We have all fantasized about what it would be like to win the lottery — that unfathomable wealth may solve all of our problems and make us happy for the rest of our lives. We’re often made to believe that drugs and alcohol make us “feel” happy, rather than them acting as a means to escape negative emotions such as fear, loneliness, shyness, depression, anxiety, etc. If you go on social media these days, you are bombarded with suspiciously specific advertisements of material goods that are presented in a way to make you believe they would make your life better and happier. The truth is, none of these things make you happy. They may make you feel emotions that are related to happiness, but if you’ve been in a position where you have tried these as a way to be happy — did it work? My guess is it did not, at least not long-term. It is a common misconception that pleasure is synonymous with happiness. One study on the subject of happiness found that those with the highest level of life-satisfaction and happiness correlated directly with community engagement and a sense of purpose and meaningfulness — not with pleasure.
One may also think that happiness is found in the avoidance of negative emotions. If we avoid people, places, or things that evoke negative or painful feelings, is that enough to be happy? According to Aristotle, absolutely not. Aristotle believed that the absence of negative emotions is not an indicator of happiness at all. Instead, he theorized happiness is linked to feeling unpleasant emotions when appropriate and goal-conducive — which brings up a significant point. When it comes to addiction, those that find themselves abusing substances in the first place are often doing so to escape what they find unpleasant. In repressing those emotions, we don’t allow ourselves to grow, learn, and evolve. From those moments, happiness has the chance to be planted — experiencing the spectrum of emotions of the human condition allows us to appreciate the times in which we are in a state of content and well-being. Growth is a huge part of overall happiness — it gives our life meaning and allows us to see the world beyond ourselves and our position to make it better than when we arrived.
So How Does One be Happy?
It’s a great question with a seemingly infinite number of answers. Still, of those answers, the ones backed by years of research, all seem to boil down to similar principles:
Introspection — intimately and honestly knowing yourself, acknowledging your positive and negative feelings when they arise, and allowing them to pass without judgment or fixation. Processing our emotions in a healthy way is a great first step in achieving long-term happiness.
Gratitude — appreciating what you have and not comparing yourself unfavorably to others. Expression of gratitude is an incredibly powerful practice that can profoundly impact mental and emotional well-being.
Purpose — using your strengths for the service of something higher than yourself. Some may argue (myself included) that this is the most crucial component in the pursuit of happiness. Having a pleasant life or a good life is wonderful, but I believe true happiness is found in a meaningful life; a life that uniquely enriches the world around us through positive engagement and constructive participation.
If you’re struggling with your own pursuit of happiness, think back on the definition of happiness of being in a state of well-being and contentment. If well-being is attributed to the pillars of wellness, and contentment through introspection, gratitude, and purpose, take some time to evaluate which of these components are not getting the necessary attention in your life. Allow yourself a few brief moments a day to think inwardly, process your feelings, then let them pass. Then, go out into the world and share your unique strengths in a meaningful and purpose-driven way. If all else fails, don’t hesitate to go for a walk or run and throw on Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” for a little mood boost — some exercise endorphins and good tunes are always a good place to start!