Human beings are wired to constantly want. We want things for ourselves and we want things for other people. A want that is common to all of us is the want to be happy. We want to be happy and we want other people to be happy. However, I’ve learned that many people can’t define happiness and don’t understand what being happy really means. Perhaps that’s why so many people talk more about their unhappiness than their happiness. Before we can get what we want, we must know what that want is. How to Live Longer in Happiness – Part 2: Defining Happiness explains the true meaning of happiness and what it means to be happy.
Why We Struggle With Happiness
Many of us struggle with being happy because we were misinformed about it and happiness. Many of us were led to believe that we must depend on other people to make us happy, that we have to make other people happy, and our circumstances determine our happiness. We were also led to believe that being happy is an emotion. We should have learned the truth; that we must pursue our own happiness, everyone is responsible for his/her own happiness, and we can experience some level of happiness despite our circumstances. We should have also been taught that being happy is not an emotion. It is a condition. We know emotions are fickle. If happiness is an emotion, it cannot be constant. So, what is happiness?
Definition of Happy and Happiness
The best didactic definition of happiness I found is in Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language (compact edition, Walking Lion Press). It states this: Happiness is “The agreeable sensations that spring from the enjoyment of good; the state of a being in which his desires are gratified by the enjoyment of pleasure without pain. Happiness is comparative. To a person distressed with pain, relief from that pain affords happiness; in other cases, we give the name happiness to positive pleasure or an excitement of agreeable sensations. Happiness, therefore, admits of indefinite degrees of increase in enjoyment, or gratification of desires. Perfect happiness, or pleasure unalloyed with pain, is not attainable in this life.”
The 1828 Dictionary says this about happy: “The pleasurable sensations derived from gratification of sensual appetites render a person temporarily happy; but he only can be esteemed really and permanently happy, who enjoys peace of mind in the favor of God.”
Where Happiness Comes From
We see that happiness is relative, varies in intensity, can be constant, but not absolute in this life, and is a natural desire, but not an inherent sensation. Happiness comes from good and God. Therefore, it comes from good thoughts, good behaviors, good intentions, and good grief. We find it beyond our natural being. We find happiness in our supernatural state of being.
I bet sometime during your childhood you were told to, “Think good thoughts.” People tell us this when we are scared or nervous. When we think good thoughts, we activate our conscious mind (thinking brain) so it overrides the activity of our subconscious mind (emotional instincts), making us more mindful, and we feel better. As adults, visions of sugar-plums dancing in our heads is not as effective as realistic thoughts. So, we think good thoughts be recalling pleasant memories and through gratitude. Just thanking God throughout the day for what you have and what you can do creates good thoughts, which turn into good behaviors, and good intentions.
Good behavior and good intentions occur when we are prudent. Prudence leads to knowledge, wisdom, and a happier life. Good behaviors and good intentions result in more satisfying relationships and greater satisfaction with ourselves and we are happier.
“Good grief” is an expression of dismay frequently droned by Charlie Brown. It’s an oxymoron since grief does not feel good. A more accurate expression would be, “Good after grief” because God promises us joy after mourning. When we are deep in grief it is difficult to imagine any kind of joy. However, we can hold onto our peace by remembering Jesus’s peace, thinking in terms of peace, and simply telling ourselves to be peaceful. Then, joy will follow and we will return to happiness.
Happiness is Comparative to Pleasure and Pain
The definition shows happiness is proportional to pleasure and pain. It is easy to be happy when we are gratified (pleased by getting what we want) or free of pain. During these good times, there is no need to be on alert, so our alert system goes into standby mode. But, when we don’t get what we want or we’re in pain, our alert system is triggered. We get flooded with fear, anger, contempt, shame, and guilt – the antitheses of happiness. To overcome these emotions, we must have a deeper understanding of pain, pleasure, and the abilities God gave us to pursue happiness.
To further understand happiness, let’s take a closer look at pain and pleasure. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines pain as: “An uneasy sensation in animal bodies, of any degree from slight to extreme distress or torture, proceeding from pressure, tension or spasm, separation of parts by violence, or any derangement of functions. Uneasiness of mind; disquietude; anxiety; solicitude for the future, grief, sorrow for the past. We suffer pain when we fear or expect evil; we feel pain at the loss of friends or property.”
When we are in physical pain, we focus on acquiring relief and we rely on other people to help us with that. We take medication, have medical procedures, or get physical therapy. When we have emotional pain, we are less inclined to rely on others for help and try to relieve it ourselves. We complain, whine, or self-medicate with food, alcohol, drugs, or shopping. Soon, these relief aids have more control over us than we have over them and we “need” a drink, “don’t mean to complain, but can’t help it,” or “can’t eat just one cookie.” We are victims of our own misery and suffer from chronic unhappiness.
Pleasure is defined as, “The gratification of the senses or of the mind; agreeable sensations or emotions; the excitement produced by enjoyment or the expectation of good. We receive pleasure from the indulgence of appetite, the view of a beautiful landscape, the harmony of sounds, an agreeable society, the expectation of seeing an absent friend; from the prospect of gain or success of any kind. Pleasure is properly positive excitement of the mind.”
We need pleasure and God wants us to have it. Everyone needs pleasure because it motivates us to do things we remember as enjoyable and avoid past situations that caused pain. Pleasure is important for continuing a healthy existence because many pleasurable experiences are associated with satisfying our basic needs, such as eating, sleeping, hygiene, exercising, and sex.
The definition of pleasure shows it is good if it comes from good and used for good. It also indicates we can get pleasure from others and we can find it ourselves. Either way, happiness exists when we are prudent in seeking pleasure. There is little to no happiness when we seek pleasure for relief.
In this series, I refer to two kinds of pleasure; relief pleasure and prudent pleasure. In Part 1 of How to Live Longer in Happiness, I talked about living in the natural or survival mode. When people live in the natural or survival mode they have higher levels of stress hormones and experience chronic fear, anger, contempt, shame, and guilt. This causes them to be anxious, depressed, resentful, bitter, jealous, irritable, and petulant. Clearly, these emotions, attitudes, and behaviors do not activate the joy center of the brain. To light up the joy center of their brains and get relief from their misery, these nature dwellers need a hit of “happy hormones,” like Dopamine. They get this through seeking and experiencing pleasure.
Desperate for relief, these folks seek quick fix pleasure or binge with impulsive pleasures; and lots of it. Relief pleasure is anything that gives them a rush. It could be sensual or sexual pleasure; they might overeat, over drink, binge shop, or engage in risky behaviors. They may find pleasure in gambling or even over-exercising.
This kind of pleasure is temporary because it’s only remembered as a relief. It usually ends in regret and is costly. It costs money, time, reputation, or worse. Impulsive pleasure gives temporary relief from the agony of living in survival mode. Unlike prudent pleasure that perpetuates happiness, relief pleasure perpetuates misery.
Pleasure and Living in Survival Mode vs. Living in Happiness
This illustration shows what we experience when we live in the natural and live in happiness and the pleasure cycle for each.
Prudent pleasure is planned. It’s the kind of pleasure that comes from good thinking and good intent. This kind of pleasure is like the kind described in the definition. It also includes things like vacations, fellowship with family and friends, planned nights out, massages, or just taking time to relax. This pleasure has a lasting effect. It’s the kind of pleasure we enjoy remembering with photos and reminiscing. It puts us in a state of happiness.
The Elements of Happiness
Happiness is a state of being resulting from an amalgamation of certain elements. These elements are God’s gifts to us and a direct connection to Him. While we have a natural desire for them, they are not naturally acquired. We must go beyond our natural state, above our instincts and subconscious mind for them. They are literally in the higher part of our brain where we think and make decisions; in the supernatural area of our mind. This puts them in a supernatural realm. These elements are joy, peace, love, freedom, satisfaction, and contentment.
Pleasure is a catalyst for happiness, but we can create and maintain happiness for ourselves by practicing and experiencing any one of the elements. Each element has pieces of the other elements in them. For example, when we have joy, we also have peace, freedom, love, and satisfaction. When we have peace, we have freedom, satisfaction, and contentment. So, this makes it easier to acquire all of them even when we only have one.
Definitions and Details of Elements
To know happiness, we must fully understand these elements. Here is a detailed explanation of the elements that make up happiness along with supernatural details that come from Scripture. (Note that all definitions are from Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language as indicated above.)
Joy is defined as, “The passion or emotion excited by the acquisition of expectation of good; that excitement of pleasurable feelings which is caused by success, good fortune, the gratification of desire or some good possessed, or by a rational prospect of possessing what we love or desire.”
Joy was described in the Old Testament. As early as Samuel, joy was described as God’s mercy and shown to include the elements of freedom and peace as God led the Israelites to freedom with peace and joy.
God wants us to have joy. He gives it to us in His mercy but tells us the reality that joy doesn’t come easy. Jesus explains that we will have His joy as long as we remain disciples and follow Him. Jesus also tells us that despite our grief and pain, we will be joyful again.
Paul reminds us that as long as we have God in our hearts and are disciples of Christ, we can be joyful no matter what our circumstances.
Peace is defined as, “A state of quiet or tranquility; freedom from disturbance or agitation (fear, terror, anger, anxiety).”
Like joy, we can’t just wait around for our lives to become peaceful. We must make a concerted effort to have it. First, we must know what peace is. Then, we must be patient, mindful, empathic, strong, determined, and kind so we can create and maintain it.
Peace is synonymous with freedom from worry and fear. It also brings us joy, satisfaction, contentment, and love.
Love is defined as, “An affection of the mind excited by beauty and worth of any kind, or by the qualities of an object which communicates pleasure.” An even better definition of love is in 1 Corinthians 13 4-8:
“4 Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.
5 It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].
6 It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.
7 Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].
8 Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or come to an end].” *
When we live in love, we can’t help but live in happiness.
Freedom is defined as, “A state of exemption from the power of control of another. Exemptions from restraint or control.”
For anything to grow, it must be free. This includes us as individuals and as children of God.
Freedom is not a rite of passage or a God-given right. Someone has to pay for it. For ages, people have sacrificed their lives, money, and families for freedom from tyranny on this earth. And, Jesus paid for our eternal freedom with His life. God wants us to be free to grow. So, through His love, He created us to have freedom of choice. We can choose to live in the natural or in the free spiritual realm of happiness. To live in freedom, we must live in the spirit of Christ with peace, joy, and love.
Satisfaction is defined as, “That state of mind which results from the full gratification of desire; to rest in confidence of mind or contentment with present possessions and enjoyment. The act of pleasing or gratifying.” Satisfaction is synonymous with contentment, joy, and gratification.
Since we are greedy and competitive by nature, we are easily dissatisfied. Comparing what we have with what other people have keeps us in high alert (fear in natural). We take constant inventory of what we see other people have and what we have. This gives us no rest (peace) of mind and no appreciation for what we do have. It prohibits us from enjoying our own gifts and talents. And, the things we acquire are not gratifying since they are merely devices to get us ahead of our competitors.
We must learn how to be satisfied through appreciation, truth, and acceptance. Scripture tells us that we will be satisfied when we satisfy others (Isaiah 59: 10-11) and that God satisfies us when we rely upon and honor Him. Psalms 107: 8-9 and Proverbs 19:23.
Many nature dwellers focus so much on their own misery, they become blind to the needs of others. Therefore, they fail to be empathic and don’t extend themselves to the mercy of others. They miss out on the act of pleasing others through service and remain dissatisfied and distressed.
Contentment is defined as, “Rest or quietness of the mind in the present condition; satisfaction which holds the mind in peace, restraining complaint, opposition, or further desire, and often implying a moderate degree of happiness.” It is synonymous with satisfaction, gratification, and overjoyed.
Contentment is also counterintuitive. We must learn to be content, which is counter to what we first learned. By nature, we learned that other people are responsible for our contentment. When we were infants, we expressed dissatisfaction, like hunger and discomfort, through crying. Our mothers tended to our needs and we were content. This makes us believe that other people are responsible for our contentment.
If we were raised in less than ideal conditions where the people in charge were only content when things were going their way or there was a celebration, we learned that contentment is determined by our circumstances. This is also untrue. We can be content in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, but only through our faith in God. Paul explains this in Philippians 4: 11-13 while he was in prison. It was under these dismal conditions that Paul wrote so many good letters in the Bible.
Paul tells us that we can be content with success and failure. Contentment does not mean we are complacent. Complacency means we just settle into apathy. When we are content, we continue to have goals and dreams we want to achieve and we continue constant work at being better versions of ourselves. We continue efforts to live longer in happiness.
Understanding the composition of happiness, the need for pleasure, and the role pain has to deepen our happiness is the second step for living longer in happiness. Part 3 will explain how you get from nature/survival mode to living in happiness. Stay tuned!
How to Live Longer in Happiness Part 2: Defining Happiness:
*Scripture quotations are taken from the Amplified® Bible (AMPC),
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