Credit: Deborah Spooner Photography
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I Don't Understand Happiness

Answers about this 'elusive joy' lead to more questions.

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I was listening to a TED Talk a few days ago.

It was about happiness: that elusive concept we all seem to want but very few seem to solidly grip.

I started asking:

"Are you happy?" "How often are you happy?" "What would make you more happy?"

This made me run into a problem, though. The response I would often receive was "well, what do you mean by happy?" Honestly, I've had a hard time succinctly and clearly responding to that.

What actually is "happiness?"

This has been on my mind a lot the last few days. I definitely still don't have all the answers (not even close). I'm still in process.

Here are four questions into the investigation about this concept of happiness:

1. Is happiness always a choice?

I am becoming a firm believer that many, many things in our lives are choices. To many degrees, we "choose" what we do. To some degree, we can even "choose" how we feel.

This concept began when I was thinking about stress and how we handle (or "choose") to deal with it, but I'm not sure how it applies to all emotions, such as anger, depression, love, sadness.

How much do we choose what we feel? Or is it more that we choose how we respond to feelings that are triggered by our experiences and thoughts?

Is happiness a feeling we can choose to instantaneously have, or is it a response that we choose to have?

2. Is happiness different for everyone?

What makes me happy sure isn't what can make some of my friends happy, too. Why is this? Is there a certain "state of happiness" each of us is trying to achieve which looks different for everyone?

I like a certain degree of chaos and room to explore. My friend likes security and boundaries. I'm happier in one type of situation. She's happier in another.

But how can we measure happiness if we don't have one standard for what it looks like?

Maybe the externals that indicate happiness (my friend having her security; me having my freedom) are just reflections of a deeper root of happiness. Maybe we are both looking for places of joy where we find purpose.

Maybe the situations that make us happy are simply expressions, expressions showing that these situations are meeting internal values that we are seeking. Maybe this lets us finally meet happiness itself.

3. Can anyone take away your happiness?

In order to figure out if happiness can be taken away, I think we first need to figure out who or what gives it, how it's given, and how we are able to keep this feeling (or maybe) state of being.

Can any event or any person actually take away your happiness, or is it your choice whether this external stimuli results in you relinquishing the happiness you have?

In order to give something up, though, you have to have it already inside of yourself. If it's inside of you, nobody else can actually reach in and take it.

Maybe you really do have to give it up. Maybe it can't actually be taken without your permission.

4. What would it take to live with more happiness for each person?

If we can figure out why we are happy, then can't we (also) figure out what would make each of us individually more happy?

Alright, so many of us would be perfectly content with more success, money, and fame or simply finally getting that job promotion or getting in with that group of people.

Some elements of our life, we can't exactly completely control, however. (Try as we might, we don't have the total power to coerce our bosses into granting promotions). However, some elements in our life we can control.

If happiness is something that we hold inside ourselves, we can learn to hold it better.

If happiness is something that we hold inside ourselves, we can learn what actions we take that add to this (and which actions take away).

If happiness is something that we hold inside ourselves, shouldn't this be something we spend time learning to safeguard and strengthen?

If we really do have so much more power over our own happiness than we often give ourselves credit for, why wouldn't we take this more seriously? Couldn't we all use a little more happiness? Couldn't this word use a little more spreading of happiness?

Maybe we'll never know. We'll probably never completely understand. Some, we don't know, however. Some, we can figure out.

Once we know, once we are thinking, the responsibility comes from what we are going to do from there.

What do you think about happiness? What does it look like for you? How can you make your life (and the lives of others) a little more full of it?

Deborah Spooner, city loving and avocado eating cultural enthusiast, is a creative, dreamer, and mover who is enamored by ideas and addicted to dipping words in candor. Co-founder and editor-in-chief of BraveMag, you can find college-student Deborah wandering through art museums, collecting philosophical and sociological books, and exploring new locations in quest of knowledge, love of adventure, and desire to change the world. Connect with Deborah at her blog Hope Shining.

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