What is happiness? When asked to define the term, people emphasize different aspects of this elusive state. Some people see happiness as primarily contentment—the inner peace and joy that come from deep satisfaction with one’s surroundings, relationships with others, accomplishments, and oneself. Still others view happiness mainly as pleasurable engagement with their personal environment—having a career and hobbies that are engaging, meaningful, rewarding, and exciting. These differences, of course, are merely differences in emphasis. Most people would probably agree that each of these views, in some respects, captures the essence of happiness.
Surveys show that we are less happy now than we were 30 years ago despite being twice as affluent. And statistics reveal that happiness declines from childhood and reaches an all time low at the age of about 38 before gradually rising again. Apparently, those over the age of 60 are the happiest.
Other studies show that money can buy happiness – when used for the benefit of others. Generosity, gratitude, compassion, and service all seem to be positively correlated with a deep, lasting wellbeing.
Donating your time instead of your money will also cause you to feel more connected to the organization you’re helping out. This in turn will boost otherwise elusive feelings of contentment and balance that so many of us seek. In other words, if you’re looking to get happy, stop staying late at work just because you think you see something shiny at the top of the ladder: Go out and donate your time to an organization that matters to you.
Although wealth and material possessions are nice to have, the notion of flow suggests that neither are prerequisites for a happy and fulfilling life. Flow is considered a pleasurable experience, and it typically occurs when people are engaged in challenging activities that require skills and knowledge they know they possess. For example, people would be more likely report flow experiences in relation to their interests or hobbies. Finding an activity that you are truly enthusiastic about, something so absorbing that doing it is reward itself (whether it be playing tennis, building something with your own hands, writing a children’s book, or learning how to throw pottery) is perhaps the real key.
When you consider these suggestions, you quickly realize that seeking happiness isn’t selfish. We are individuals with individual needs and individual wants who must have physical/mental room to provide movement to grow and learn new things about the world and ourselves. Life is filled with the need for contact and understanding as well as growth and change. When we are authentic, happy and fulfilled individuals, we are far better for the people around us and for our community at large. We are better parents, better partners, better bosses, co-workers and friends.
It’s not always easy to take action, it can be scary and hard and difficult. But if you don’t take action you’ll be missing out on moments of personal growth. Including many moments, people and experiences that can bring you a lot of happiness.