If you asked a thousand people for their definition of happiness, there’s a good chance you’d get a thousand different answers. It’s a concept that people have been trying to define since ancient times, yet there isn’t just one version of happiness that applies to everyone.
The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was one of the first to share his thoughts on happiness. He acknowledged that our circumstances, such as our place in society or our physical appearance, can affect our happiness. But he also believed that by striving to live a full life, happiness would be achieved along the way. Aristotle didn’t see happiness as a result of luck, but as something one could cultivate through behaviors and habits, and with perseverance through difficult times.
Inspired by the Greeks, 18th century English philosopher John Locke delved further into the concept of happiness and coined the term “pursuit of happiness”. He also made a distinction between true happiness and imaginary happiness. He suggested that superficial pleasures things like food, possessions, even sex give us a sense of happiness but it’s not the real thing. Locke believed that the pursuit of true happiness would lead people to make decisions that bettered their lives.
Unfortunately, we all know the search for true happiness doesn’t necessarily end in the best or healthiest decisions. It often leads people to pursue imaginary forms of happiness, many of which have dire consequences. The pursuit of happiness has led people to overspend, commit crimes, use drugs, join cults, and a whole other host of not so healthy things.
Perhaps so there are so many misguided attempts to find happiness because we don’t really know what it is. One thing that many experts and philosophers agree on is that happiness is NOT about feeling good ALL the time. Happy people still experience negative emotions. They still face stress, suffering and tragedy. Yet, the difference between a happy and unhappy person, may be how they process or react to those negative feelings. People who are considered “happy” are often those who can view difficult moments as opportunity, not opposition. Plus, truly happy people aren’t necessarily the upbeat, cheerful types—instead, happy people are the ones with moderate, even moods who don’t experience extremes highs or lows.
Research has found that the people who tend to be unhappy are actually those who constantly strive to find happiness. If you put too much focus on trying to be happy, you may sabotage your ability to genuinely feel that way. With the exception of those rare naturally happy people, it takes constant effort for most of us, but it shouldn’t become the main focus of our lives. As Aristotle suggested, the better method is to focus on having a full, well-rounded life. Things like regular exercise, a balanced diet, a support system of family or friends, and hobbies, can do more to promote happiness than any self-help book or new trend ever can.
If you’re consumed by the pursuit of happiness, give yourself permission to take some time off. Focus on other areas of your life. Eat well. Move more. Spend time around people you love. Find things that bring you joy. Forget about the idea of happiness for a while and simply live the best life you can.