As with many things, the definition of something differs for many people. A definition of a word changes over time and varies according to context. A word can also mean something totally different depending on just how you say it. Take the word, “shit” for example.
“that’s the shit or you da shit” is good or cool.
“I feel like shit” is a bad feeling.
“That looks like shit” is not cool.
“Shiiiiit motherfucker” is another way of greeting a friend.
“Stop talking shit” can be derogatory.
“You got the shit?” can mean anything.
But I digress. Already.
Regarding happiness, I had some recent insights and made assumptions about it. I shared those insights with a friend while in conversation. Her response blew my mind. I’ll share her response in a minute but want to first dive into my insight on happiness.
Some people (young people?) seem to confuse immediate gratification with happiness. Let’s see what the dictionary says before I get into my opinions.
My favorite source, Wikipedia says, Happiness, in the context of mental or emotional states, is positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Other forms include life satisfaction, well-being, subjective well-being, flourishing, and eudaimonia.
I have no idea what eudaimonia means so we will just set that aside for now.
I didn’t see gratification as a synonym or even included in the definition. Hmmm.
Here is my definition of happiness. “Happiness is a state of mind that is accomplished when a person achieves something of meaning to them.”
Let’s break down my definition of happiness:
“..State of mind” — can be illusory (short term and evasive) that is subjective (inside a mind according to the mind)
“…Accomplished…achieves” — means that you must do something to achieve it.
“…Of meaning to them” — is subjective according to each person.
Gratification fulfills a short-term need but is not Happiness. Far from it.
Examples of gratification are eating, sleeping, sex, watching TV, or otherwise entertaining oneself.
All seem to be necessary to survive and lead to short-term satisfaction but do not lead to happiness.
Happiness is something that is achieved by doing things that have meaning. Now, as I said, having meaning is subjective.
It reminds me of one of the great lessons of my life. I wrote about this in my first book, Deep Dive. I shared with a friend my philosophy of happiness which hinges on two things: being connected and being productive. Assumed in those two things of being connected and productive was that they had meaning or were purposeful. His response was simply two words. Two small words with huge meanings. He said, “for you.” He said, “for you.”
Being connected and productive with meaning, or achieving meaningful accomplishments is what brings me happiness. Eating and sleeping are necessary and satisfy me, but that is not happiness. He showed me that happiness is subjective.
It is different for everyone.
However, I believe that there are some universal truths. I believe that true happiness comes from a sense of accomplishment. I have a checklist that I write down almost every day. When I check something off (even if only in my mind), I am happy because I accomplished something.
I think that subliminally we are always considering existential issues to help us place value on our existence. I think that there is a universal desire to have meaning in our lives — to make an impact, to have a legacy.
I think that we distract ourselves (and society distracts us) from finding true happiness instead of gratification. Society tells us to buy and consume and convinces us that doing those things brings us happiness. I think that they have done a good job of fooling many of us about happiness. I think that many of us buy into that false equation of consumption provides happiness. Short-term contentment, maybe. But happiness? Nope.
Happiness is not all about achievement and accomplishment, but it should be a greater percentage than that amount of time pursuing gratification. Imagine inverting the percentages from 80% of your time spent in pursuit of gratification to 80% of your time spent in pursuit of accomplishment! I’ll bet those people will be happier and so would society!
Now, on to my assumption and her response that blew my mind.
After I shared my insight, she said that I was missing something and making a big assumption. I responded that I had no idea what she was talking about. She said, “you assuming that people live their lives in pursuit of happiness.” I said, “of course, why else do people live?” She said, “you’d be surprised”.
So, I’ll end my essay with a few questions:
What brings you happiness?
Is gratification alone a way to find happiness?
Is happiness your goal in life?
Is it possible that some people live lives without a pursuit of happiness?