AskDefine | Define happiness

Dictionary Definition



1 state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy [syn: felicity] [ant: unhappiness]
2 emotions experienced when in a state of well-being [ant: sadness]

User Contributed Dictionary



From happy.



  1. joy, the emotion of being happy.
  2. Good luck; good fortune; prosperity.
    All happiness bechance to thee in Milan! — William Shakespeare, Wikisource:The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I-i
  3. An agreeable feeling or condition of the soul arising from good fortune or propitious happening of any kind; the possession of those circumstances or that state of being which is attended enjoyment; the state of being happy; contentment; joyful satisfaction; felicity; blessedness.
  4. Fortuitous elegance; unstudied grace; — used especially of language.
    Some beauties yet no precepts can declare, For there's a happiness, as well as care. — Alexander Pope.


  • Happiness, felicity, blessedness, bliss.
  • Happiness is generic, and is applied to almost every kind of enjoyment except that of the animal appetites.
  • Felicity is a more formal word, and is used more sparingly in the same general sense, but with elevated associations.
  • Blessedness is applied to the most refined enjoyment arising from the purest social, benevolent, and religious affections.
  • Bliss denotes still more exalted delight, and is applied more appropriately to the joy anticipated in heaven.
    O happiness! our being’s end and aim! — Alexander Pope
    Others in virtue place felicity, But virtue joined with riches and long life; In corporal pleasures he, and careless ease. — John Milton
    His overthrow heaped happiness upon him; For then, and not till then, he felt himself, And found the blessedness of being little. — William Shakespeare, ''Wikisource:The Life of King Henry VIII, IV-ii


emotion of being happy
  • Finnish: onnellisuus
  • Portuguese: felicidade, alegria
  • Russian: счастье, радость
good luck
  • Finnish: onni
  • Russian: счастье, удача
agreeable feeling
  • Finnish: onnellisuus
  • Portuguese: felicidade, alegria
  • Russian: счастье, радость
fortuitous elegance
  • Russian: счастье, удача


Extensive Definition

Happiness is an emotion associated with feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense joy.

Positive psychology research perspectives

Theoretical framework

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive psychology, describes happiness as consisting of 'positive emotions' and 'positive activities'.
He further categorizes emotions related to the past, present and future. Positive emotions relating to the past include satisfaction, contentment, pride and serenity. Positive emotions relating to the future include optimism, hope and trust. Positive emotions about the present are divided into two categories: pleasure and gratifications. The bodily and higher pleasures are "pleasures of the moment" and usually involve some external stimulus.
Gratifications involve full engagement, flow, elimination of self-consciousness, and blocking of felt emotions. But when a gratification comes to an end then positive emotions will be felt. Gratifications can be obtained or increased by developing 'signature strengths' and virtues. Authenticity is the derivation of gratification and positive emotions from exercising signature strengths. The good life comes from using 'signature strengths' to obtain abundant gratification in, for example, enjoying work and creative "activities". The most profound sense of happiness is experienced through the 'meaningful life', achieved if one exercises one's unique strengths and virtues in a purpose greater than one's own immediate goals.

Research findings

Looking for the level of happiness as reported by people, and comparing it to various elements in their life reveals the following findings:
  • About 50% of one's happiness depends on one's genes. This is shown by studying identical twins, and learning that their happiness is 50% correlated even when growing up in different houses.
  • 10-15% is a result of various measurable variables, such as socioeconomic status, marital status, health, income, and others.
  • The rest of the variance does not have a discernible cause. Called "unexplained variance", it may actually be attributed to statistical "noise".

Other psychology perspectives

Michael Argyle developed The Oxford Happiness Inventory as a broad measure of psychological well-being. This measures happiness as an aggregate of self-esteem, sense of purpose, social interest and kindness, sense of humor and aesthetic appreciation. This has been criticized for lacking a theoretical model of happiness and because it is felt that certain aspects overlap. Some studies suggest that happiness can be measured effectively.


In economics

Commonly market health measures such as GDP and GNP have been used as a measure of successful policy. However, although on average richer nations tend to be happier than poorer nations, beyond an average GDP/capita of about $15,000 a year, studies indicate the average income in a nation makes little difference to the average happiness of the people in the nation. It has been argued that happiness measures could be used not as a replacement for more traditional measures but as a supplement.

Biological approach

Though it may be impossible to objectively measure happiness, physiological correlates to happiness can be measured through a variety of techniques. For instance, psychophysiologist R.J. Davidson has developed reliable fMRI and EEG tests that correlate to subjective levels of happiness. Stefan Klein in his book "The Science of Happiness" links the dynamics of neurobiological systems (ie. dopaminergic, opiate) to the concepts and findings of Positive Psychology and Social Psychology.
The evolutionary perspective offers an alternative approach to understand what happiness or quality of life is about. Briefly, the questions to be answered are: What features are included in the brain that allows humans to distinguish between positive and negative states of mind, and why did evolution add these features? Answering these questions points towards an understanding of what happiness is about; and how to best exploit the capacities of the brain that humans are endowed with. The perspective is presented in detail by the evolutionary biologist Bjørn Grinde in his book “Darwinian Happiness”, as well as in a more formal way.

Worldwide findings

The Satisfaction with Life Index is an attempt to show the average self-reported happiness (subjective life satisfaction) in different nations. This is an example of recent trend to use direct measures of happiness, such as surveys asking people how happy they are, as an alternative to traditional measures of policy success to GDP or GNP. There are also several other examples of measures that includes self-reported happiness as one variable. Happy Life Years, a concept brought by Dutch sociologist Veenhoven, combines self-reported happiness with life expectancy. The Happy Planet Index combines it with life expectancy and ecological footprint. Gross national happiness is a concept introduced by the King of Bhutan as an alternative to GDP but there is as yet no exact definition.

Set point theory

The happiness set point is a notion proposed by Lykken and Tellegen that we all have a baseline level of happiness that we return to. Although good and bad events may shift us from this baseline temporarily, we cannot permanently increase or decrease our happiness levels in the long-term. Others have since challenged this pessimistic view, some drawing on neuroplasticity as evidence that our happiness level is not set in stone.

Everyday correlates

Research in the US has found that citizens who identify themselves as "conservative" are more likely to report being "happy" or "very happy" than those who consider themselves to be "liberal." On both sides of the political spectrum, extremists report being happier than moderates. Parents are more likely to report being happy than non-parents, and religious belief also appears to be positively correlated with happiness. Happiness is also correlated with the ability to rationalize or explain social and economic inequalities.

Religious involvement

There is now extensive research suggesting that religious people are happier and less stressed. Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Centre and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being "very happy" than the least religiously committed people. An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that "high religiousness predicts a rather lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with sex life and a sense of well-being" and a review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem, and lower levels of hypertension, depression and clinical delinquency. Studies by Keith Ward show that overall religion is a positive contributor to mental health and a meta-analysis of 34 recent studies published between 1990 and 2001 also found that religiosity has a salutary relationship with psychological adjustment, being related to less psychological distress, more life satisfaction, and better self-actualization. Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers on the topic concluded that "the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse."

In religious and spiritual views

Explanation of happiness in mystical traditions, especially in advanced spiritual techniques is related to full balance (conjunction, union, "secret marriage") of so called inner energy lines (energy channels of a soul or deepest dimension of the human): nadi (ancient Indian), gimel kavim (Hebrew), pillars, columns, gnostic ophis or caduceus. In balanced state two main lines (left & right, Ida & Pingala) form third line, called Shushumna or lashon hakodesh (hebr.). Speaking technically (full) activity of this third or central line is happiness. Left and right lines include all aspects of normal human life: sleep and awake, body and mind, physical and spiritual and so on. To attain balanced state of these 2 lines is a main task of life - a paradoxical result of all kinds of activities and endeavours combined with full relax or tranquility at the same time.
In Catholicism, the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity (Latin equiv. to the Gk. eudaimonia), or "blessed happiness", described by the 13th-C. philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a Beatific Vision of God's essence in the next life. See Summa Theologiae
As an example, according to Augustine's Confessions, he lived much of his life without God. He sinned much and recognized his sinfulness. As a youth, he sinned for its own sake, and later in the pursuit of a perceived good. When he lost a dear friend to death, it troubled him a lot and he turned to God for answers. He turned to God to find true happiness, and was converted to Christianity. He found that true happiness can only come from a relationship with God, and appreciating God's creation for His sake, and not its own.
Happiness forms a central theme of Buddhist teachings. For ultimate freedom from suffering, the Eightfold Path leads its practitioner to Nirvana, a state of everlasting peace. In this teaching, ultimate happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms. More mundane forms of happiness, such as acquiring wealth and maintaining good friendships, are also recognized as worthy goals for lay people (see sukha). Buddhism also encourages the generation of lovingkindness and compassion, the desire for the happiness and welfare of all beings (see brahmavihara).
One of the core concepts in Buddhism is that of Dharma, also a central concept in Hinduism. Dharma is about expressing and acting according to your core nature. This eliminates potential causes of 'disharmony' in the mind and leads to happiness.

References & Notes

  • Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Analysis of Happiness, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1976.
  • Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, Knopf, 2006
  • Barbara Ann Kipfer, 14,000 Things to Be Happy About, Workman, 1990/2007 ISBN 978-0761147213
  • Stefan Klein, The Science of Happiness, Marlowe 2006, ISBN 1-56924-328-X
  • Richard Layard, Happiness: Lessons From A New Science, Penguin, 2005.
  • David G. Myers, Ph. D The Pursuit of Happiness: Who is Happy-- and Why, William Morrow and Co., 1992, ISBN 0-688-10550-5
  • Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph. D Authentic Happiness, Free Press 2002, ISBN 0-7432-2298-9
  • Saint Augustine, "Confessions",Oxford World's Classics 1998 ISBN 0-19-283372-3
  • Psychological Wellbeing, Hills, P., & Argyle, M. (2002). The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire: a compact scale for the measurement of psychological well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 33, 1073–1082.
  • Arthur C. Brooks, "Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It," Basic Books (2008) ISBN 978-0-465-00278-8

External links

sisterlinks Happiness
happiness in Arabic: سعادة
happiness in Bulgarian: Щастие
happiness in Catalan: Felicitat
happiness in Danish: Lykke
happiness in German: Glück
happiness in Spanish: Felicidad
happiness in Esperanto: Ĝojo
happiness in French: Bonheur
happiness in Galician: Felicidade
happiness in Korean: 행복
happiness in Croatian: Sreća
happiness in Icelandic: Hamingja
happiness in Italian: Felicità
happiness in Hebrew: שמחה
happiness in Georgian: ბედნიერება
happiness in Lithuanian: Laimė
happiness in Macedonian: Среќа
happiness in Malay (macrolanguage): Kebahagiaan
happiness in Dutch: Geluk (emotie)
happiness in Japanese: 幸福
happiness in Norwegian: Lykke
happiness in Norwegian Nynorsk: Lukke
happiness in Polish: Szczęście
happiness in Portuguese: Felicidade
happiness in Quechua: Kusikuy
happiness in Russian: Счастье
happiness in Simple English: Happiness
happiness in Slovak: Šťastie (pocit)
happiness in Serbian: Срећа
happiness in Finnish: Onnellisuus
happiness in Turkish: Mutluluk
happiness in Yiddish: פרייליכקייט
happiness in Contenese: 開心
happiness in Chinese: 快樂

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1