Friday, June 23, 2006

Happiness (part 2) - What is Happiness?

"So what is Happiness?", someone asked me recently, with the air of a man who wasn't expecting a straight answer- especially not asking this of all questions, especially not when asking a philosopher of all people. Well the good news is - I gave him a straight answer. And I'm going to give it to now as well.

You might think that all you have to do to find out what happiness is is to look it up in the dictionary. Try it if you like, you can do it very quickly and freely on the internet. If you are lucky, you will get an answer that points to two definitions, like
a : a state of well-being and contentment
b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience
And that, basically, would be my answer too.
Happiness (a) is life satisfaction. If I asked you "How happy, on a scale 0 to 10, is your life?", then your answer would give a measure of your life satisfaction, happiness (a).
Happiness (b) is moment-to-moment happiness - ranging from enjoyment and pleasure to joy and and ecstasy. Psychologists term this sort of happiness 'positive affect'; its oppositeis called "negative affect" and includes guilt, sadness, anxiety and all the other negative emotions. To find out how happy someone was in this sense, you might try to find out the balance of the positive minus the negative emotions in their life.
Does this help? Yes. First of all, it means you can now easily answer the question "How happy am I?". If it seemed mysterious before, it was only because the word "happiness" is ambiguous and unlike some words, like "bat", which have two very different meanings , the two meanings of "happiness" are sufficiently alike to cause confusion. Try it now - give yourself a mark out of ten for
Happiness (a) - life satisfaction and
Happiness (b) - the balance in your life of positive over negative emotions
I wonder if the two values are the same? I wonder if you'd like to be happier, in both senses? If so, then my next article on happiness will help - because the distinction we've made today will be invaluable when it comes to helping you becoming happier.


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