Happiness: What It Is, Why It Is Important, and How to Cultivate More of It

Happiness: What It Is, Why It Is Important, and How to Cultivate More of It by Lisa Egan for Ready Nutrition

What is happiness? And how can you add more to your life? Here’s what research has to say.

What is happiness?

Ask several people this question (including yourself), and you will likely get a wide variety of answers.

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While it plays an important role in our lives, researchers have yet to agree on a definition or framework for happiness because it is hard to define scientifically. In fact, happiness guru Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently told Forbes that there are 15 academic definitions of happiness!

Most of us probably don’t think too much about an actual definition for happiness anyway – we know it when we feel it.

However, in the last few decades, researchers have learned a lot about happiness.

Experts have developed several theories about what happiness is.

Researchers in the positive psychology field (the scientific study of what makes life most worth living) use the term happiness interchangeably with “subjective well-being,” according to Greater Good Magazine. This is measured by simply asking people to report how satisfied they feel with their own lives and how much positive and negative emotion they’re experiencing.

The article What is Happiness and Why is It Important? (+ Definition in Psychology) explains that there are many different theories of happiness, but they generally fall into one of two categories based on how they conceptualize happiness (or well-being):

Hedonic happiness/well-being is happiness conceptualized as experiencing more pleasure and less pain; it is composed of an affective component (high positive affect and low negative affect) and a cognitive component (satisfaction with one’s life).

Eudaimonic happiness/well-being conceptualizes happiness as the result of the pursuit and attainment of life purpose, meaning, challenge, and personal growth; happiness is based on reaching one’s full potential and operating at full functioning (AIPC, 2011). (source)

In the book, The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

Happiness International has developed a theory on happiness that is largely based on scientific discoveries about how the brain works and on current happiness theories. It “identifies 9 universal and overlapping human needs which go by the handy acronym WE PROMISE.” The 9 categories “cover the range of human needs in a very general way and are intentionally overlapping, just as our thoughts and feelings overlap in our mind,” the site explains.

WE PROMISE stands for:

Wellbeing – mind-body connections, aspects of your physical body that affect your mood, and vice versa

Environment – external factors like safety, food availability, freedom, weather, beauty, and your home

Pleasure – temporary experiences such as joy, sex, love, and eating

Relationships – as a social species, relationships are at the foundation of what it means to be human

Outlook – how you approach the world through adventurousness, curiosity, and making plans

Meaning – having a purpose and the wisdom to understand it

Involvement – to be happy you have to be engaged and actively involved

Success – confirmation from yourself and others that what you do has value

Elasticity – how you recover from life’s inevitable negative events (source)

There are a few common myths about happiness.

Have you found yourself saying things like “I’ll be happy if I get this promotion” or “When I’m married, I’ll finally be happy?” If so, you may be falling for some happiness myths, as Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky explains in The Pursuit of Happiness: 3 Myths Everyone Should Stop Believing:

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