When We Say Happy, What Do We Mean?

Happiness has become a popular topic in the past few years. Scientists are studying the effects of positive psychology, businesses are implementing more happiness boosting policies in the workplace, writers are featuring the topic as content and we as readers are taking it all in. We are make gratitude lists, explore the inner landscape through meditation, devote hours to physical fitness and impeccable healthy eating, try and see our friends as much as we can, and fill our pinterests, instagrams, and newsfeeds with inspiring quotes and images. All of this in the name of tapping into, and sustaining an all encompassing happiness.

It’s our innate right as humans to find happiness, right?

Well, maybe. But the problem with the pursuit of happiness is that often we miss a major component of the formula: giving meaning to our lives that is outside of ourselves and our own interests. Most often, the call of popular happiness trajectories ask us to become self-consumed in our wants and desires. Of course, there are times to be selfish and self-serving, and those words should not always take on a negative context. But, the ways of seeking out and holding on to happiness that contemporary culture has become well-versed in do not carry longevity nor are they deep rooted. Going to a favorite fitness class four times a week makes us feel great, alive, fit, confident and all of the other benefits that come with physical movement. But like the endorphins they trigger, the experiences passes and we must wait for the next one to reawaken that unique joy. The reason this as well as other solely self-devoted pursuits are not substantial enough, even in large quantities, to form sustained happiness is because they are isolated, individualized experiences that do not afford us connection or contribute to a greater good.

What makes us as human beings feel like our most optimum selves is when we are able to connect with and impact the the lives of others. What this in turn comes down to is the human desire, the intelligent design of our consciousness that makes us search for a greater meaning. A meaning that lies outside of our own experience — physical, energetic, emotional or otherwise — and joins with others to work toward something bigger than our selves. There is nothing more powerful than feeling that you are a piece in a larger puzzle, especially when that puzzle forms an image that resonates with your personal values.

At its foundation, being a “happy” person tends to be aligned with the idea of taking while living a meaningful life is associated with being a giver. The two tend to overlap in many circumstances, but focusing on the latter offers a distinct taste of pleasure and joy that can be maintained over a lifetime.

It’s the difference between a quick-fix diet and a lifestyle change. Both can bring about results, but which serve our best selves, which can we share with friends and incorporate loved ones in on the journey?