What is happiness?

In 1825, when Noah Webster assembled his first dictionary, he defined happiness as “the agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good.”

Today, Princeton’s Wordnet Web site defines happiness as a “state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy” or “emotions experienced when in a state of well-being.”

According to those definitions, happiness is a positive emotion that is the result of your current situation.

But is it the byproduct of someone’s disposition? Is happiness something that exists against sadness?

NPR correspondent Eric Weiner also thought those definitions fell flat and decided to hunt down happiness in his book, “The Geography of Bliss.” His first visit was to Ruut Veenhoven director of the World Database of Happiness.

It might come as a surprise to you–as it did to me—but Veenhoven’s research indicates that most people in the world are happy. Weiner worried, however, that the way researchers gather data is suspect. How did they test whether or not people are happy? They asked them!

Instead of hooking up test subjects to monitors or bugging their homes, researchers simply asked people, “How happy would you say you are these days?”

Weiner was skeptical. Rest assured, Veenhoven advised, “You can’t be happy and not know it. By definition, if you are happy, you know it.”


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in emotions, Eric Weiner, joy, Noah Webster, positive psychology, Ruut Veenhoven, The Geography of Bliss, The Joy of Life, World Database of Happiness and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What is happiness?

  1. Anonymous says:

    first of all, i love your joy of life! i think you are the perfect example of happiness with your woderful topics and subject matter. i think most people take happiness for granted. they don’t know when it’s happening and also expect others to make it happen for them. it really is true that the best things in life are free but we’ve all forgotten that. i’m so fortunate to have my wonderful sensative husband who still loves to gaze at the moon and smile at rainbows. best wishes to you, a fan

  2. Angus Lindsay says:

    There was a British government 78rpm record released at the start of World War 1 which was of the troops boarding a ship to go to war with a speech, complete with blasts from the steam whistle. It ended: “Are we happy?”(“Yes!”)
    “Will we win?” (ditto).

    Human beings have a remarkable capacity for making the most of adverse situations. Those who live in grinding situations find happiness in company, and know how to enjoy themselves no matter what. Good food and good music come from the poor.

    The writer has been accused by a psychiatrist of being “too happy”, and she tried to pin a label on me. I said, “I am glad to be alive – what’s wrong with that?” It was explained to me that I was suffering from “Bipolar Affective Disorder”. This is what was called “manic depression”. I said that I wasn’t depressed and she said, “you haven’t got there yet.” She was determined to make my life a misery but did not succeed. I laughed at her and said with a smile, “You people are like dogs. Once you get a hold of someone you won’t let go.”

    The drugs that they routinely prescribe, anti-depressants and neuroleptics are toxins that attack the brain in a way they do not understand and have detrimental physical side effects as any poison does. If you feed a tree with poison everyday it will wilt and die.

    Any one who suffers mental problems, the best thing is to find a close friend and talk things through. Beware of psychiatrists – they are a danger to health and have no idea as to the true cosmic dimensions of human consciousness.
    I asked her, “If William Blake was brought to you and he said that he was having visions, would you put him on medication?” “Probably.”

    If you are up, they want to give you downers, and if you are down, they want to give you uppers. Frank Zappa once asked “Who are the brain police?” Aldous Huxley’s perception about the use of pills to control people is now a reality – 10% of the British population, 30% of long term prisoners are at present on anti-depressants.

    We have a success orientated society, and rejection of the false values that feed it can cause difficulties. Everyone will be happy or else.

    “When a society falls apart, they pick on those they consider the weakest.” Fidel Castro.

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