What is happiness? Is it something that is easily attainable? How do we get to a state of well being and contentment? Happiness is subjective; what is pleasurable for one person may not be as satisfying for another. It seldom stays with us for more than a day or two, for we are constantly battling to achieve balance in our daily lives. As part of that balancing act, happiness is short lived and is often followed or preceded by despair, sadness, vexation, or misery. Like clouds high above, our moods are constantly changing from one state to another. Sometimes we need to become gray and dark in order to pave the way for a bright, sunshiny mood. Happiness is the sun which breaks through the clouds, scatters them throughout the azure sky, and paints a beautiful rainbow across the heavens. It’s what brings hope to despair; it can quell severe emotional distress and help put aside feelings of grief or sadness. If happiness means having a pleasurable or satisfying experience, then wretchedness, having feelings of being deeply dejected or distressed in mind and body, is an excellent antonym for happiness. A few other choice opposites include: dissatisfaction, unhappiness, sorrowfulness, and mourning.

The word happiness can be traced back to the Old Church Slavonic word hap, which meant good fate in the early thirteenth century. It progressed through time to stand for suitable in Old English dialect, and it then developed onward to Old Norse meaning “a state of good luck.” In the 14th century Middle English linguistics picked up the word and used it to describe being akin to or having good fortune. This word might have been used to describe how Columbus was feeling when he bumped into America. We can theorize he experienced many emotions upon discovering the New World – which he thought was India. Blissfulness, cheerfulness, pleasure, blessedness, and joyfulness are all words having similar meaning to the word happiness. Imagine the bright, beaming smile on his face once he laid eyes on land after sailing for months on end. He might have danced around in pure bliss, splashing around on the sandy shore. Like a child frolicking in the salty ocean for the first time, Columbus most likely experienced a natural high on cloud nine. While he enjoyed his present state of happiness, the Native Americans would soon become distressed, quite the opposite of happiness.

Happiness presents itself in many different forms and at many different times in our life. Its symbol is universally known, a smiling yellow face. Its opposite is quite recognizable, an upside-down smile accompanied by a tear or two. Happiness is cumulative, formed from bits and pieces of good times and memorable experiences. It’s not the entire walk in the park, but the moment at which you notice a blue jay perched high in the trees singing a soft lullaby. Happiness is becoming aware of the strong redolence of pine in the forest, scratching your dog’s head while positioning his snout right up to your nose, and laughing after hearing a funny joke. Happiness is savoring each bite of a perfectly cooked steak and realizing that there is nowhere else you’d rather be. Happiness is vacuuming the living room floor on a brisk autumn afternoon while hot tea brews on the stove and warm croissants rise in the oven. It can be complex or simple, long or short, fast or slow; happiness is like a chameleon. The different shades of happiness change with varying environmental conditions. What elicits happiness in a homeless man may cause a scowl from wealthy individual. Happiness to an ant or a beaver could be quite different than happiness to a yak or zebra. Personal happiness often differs from group or tribal happiness. Sometimes being happy doesn’t feel right and sometimes being right doesn’t make us feel happy. Happiness can quickly develop into jealousy; it can often be used as a mask to hide our true feelings.

To me, happiness is a job well done. It’s going home at night with the window down and the wind spiraling through my car. When I was little I felt feelings of gleefulness playing with my Legos and G.I. Joes and Transformers. The days leading up to Christmas, my birthday, Thanksgiving, and swimming at grandma’s house all brought forth pleasurable feelings. Waking up to the rich smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls drenched in gooey icing was pure bliss. A lot of times I was happiest when I was alone. I was content being in solitude, either playing with Lincoln Logs or rummaging through the attic. As times change so do the things which make a person happy. In my teen years, happiness was earning my driver’s license, obtaining my independence, and being challenged every day at work. Happiness matures just like people do. Today, I feel the most joy being with friends and sharing special moments, lifelong memories that will forever be etched in my heart. Happiness is as diverse as the color spectrum; throughout our years we see many hues and tones of happiness, from loud and bright to subdued and soft. Life is the prism which bends our daily experiences exposing a plethora of feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Happiness is always present somewhere in our life, it’s just a matter of being able to see the happiness wavelength and recognize it as such. It can become increasingly difficult for happiness to find us, especially if we aren’t looking for it. I have learned that being aware of my surroundings and paying attention to things around me has made me more mindful of the feelings that I’m having on a daily basis. The simple act of having a positive mind keeps my happiness level up. As mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to be happy ‘round the clock; it is not impossible, however, to maintain a heightened level of awareness. An increased consciousness enables me to spot happy moments and act on them.

Taking a time out to stop and smell the roses seems like an unattainable feat in today’s non-stop, fast-paced lifestyle. Happiness is often overlooked in a society which is plagued with hopelessness, crime, hurt, and despair. It can be shared, rather than sheltered, with those experiencing great anguish, and it can become contagious like laughter. Happiness can spread like a wild fire, reaching hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of seconds. It is, perhaps, the link which bonds the human race together as one seamless entity.


Cutler, Howard C., Lama, Dalai. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.
New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.

Lara, Adair. “The One Secret to Happiness.” Redbook June 1995: 57-60.

The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1999.

Prose, Francine. “The Rules We Must Break…To Be Happy.” Redbook
April 1996: 108-9, 128.

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