What is happiness?

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Angie contemplated the view from her window for a few minutes before resigning herself to carefully explore the topic of happiness. For years and years, she wanted to be happy. For ages, her sole answer to the job interview recurring question: “where do you see yourself in five years?”, was simply: “to be happy.”

A few years ago, during her first trip to Nepal, she was among a group of people, who explored on a fine cold evening, the topic of happiness among other topics. The speaker, a man who claimed to know many things about spirituality, approached the topic of happiness and spoke about it… Angie, who was very shy back then, and who had trouble speaking up, managed with great pain to raise her hand, and to ask innocently: “what is happiness?”

Her question to her disbelief was encountered with a frown… The speaker scolded her for her naïve question and asked her instead, how old she was… She was flabbergasted… With a raging voice, he wondered how she could ask such a question. Didn’t she learn anything during her life? Didn’t she have happy moments? Didn’t she enjoy her time? Didn’t she celebrate anything ever?

Back then, she didn’t have access to the internet. Information wasn’t at the tip of her fingers and she didn’t know that the topic of happiness was studied, explored, and discussed by philosophers, psychologists, and researchers since the beginning of time. She didn’t know either, that unfortunately; happiness is an evasive feeling that can’t be captured or stored.

So what is happiness you ask? Why is happiness important? Why does the “pursuit of happiness” figure in the United States Declaration of Independence? Why Bhutan in 1972 amended its constitution to work towards a higher GNH (Gross National Happiness) and not towards a higher GDP (Gross Domestic Product)? And why did the United Arab Emirates change their goals recently to seek the happiness of their population? They have even created a ministry for happiness… What is it about happiness that we are seeking? What is happiness?

Angie would define happiness in its simplest terms. She would describe it as the authentic smile and laugh on children’s faces; that innocent smile that adults show when they are satisfied, loved, appreciated, heard, acknowledged, and accepted. Happiness, she believes, is that feeling of deep satisfaction one feels when waking up in the morning and looking forward to the day ahead. It is knowing that every action is seen, every word is heard, and every thought acknowledged. It is the fleeting feeling of making an impact on someone somewhere somehow. It is the deep satisfaction of holding a baby in one’s arms and looking gratefully for the gift of life. It is feeling the warmth of a baby in one’s arms and knowing deep down that no matter what the best is yet to come. Happiness is a child’s first steps, first words, first sentences, first questions, and first days. Happiness is an unexpected hug, compliment, feedback, and gift. Happiness is the fleeting moment of sharing a look of gratitude in someone else’s eyes. It is the feeling the giver receives when he rekindles hope in those who have lost everything except their lives. Happiness is the pure joy of holding the elevator for someone. It is watering a plant and watching it grow. It is holding hands and telling stories. It is listening and talking and chatting and laughing and sharing and dancing and celebrating. It is also buying food and making errands and filling the gas tank and taking the children out for a walk. It is the look in someone’s eyes when he finally understands something. Happiness is a walk on the beach, a sunset, a sunrise, the feeling of the salty water on your feet and the sand all over your toes… Happiness is also aha moments, an email, a gratitude letter, a message, a comment, or a conversation… Happiness is listening to someone voicing a concern, and doing your best to assist, help, and acknowledge. Happiness is learning a new word, idiom, or expression. It is exploring new cultures, meeting new people, visiting new places, striking up random conversations with strangers, and taking photos.

Happiness is standing in front of a picture, painting, sculpture, oeuvre d’art, and not being able to take your gaze away because you simply can’t think about anything so deep, so beautiful, so touching, so meaningful…

Happiness is being in the present moment. It is breathing deeply and connecting with the world around you. Happiness is the feeling you get after your first few yoga classes… that lightness you feel, that relaxation, that energy, that feeling of going with the flow… Happiness is also alpha waves and beta waves. It is the deep peace you feel after your morning meditation. Happiness is loving yourself and cherishing yourself. Happiness is being independent and being able to move freely. It is being able to tackle your own needs without the assistance of anyone else. Happiness is waking up to another day feeling that you are lucky to still be here, to breathe, to live, to dream, to hope, to accomplish, to think, to radiate, to love, to impact, to change, to grow, and to be. Happiness… “Oh, I have no idea what happiness is,” Angie wrote.

But that’s gratitude you would say…

But that’s love you would say…

But that’s appreciation you would say…

All these are terms to define happiness… Happiness has many names and comes in many forms. Deep down, all those definitions lead to the same place… As Rumi once wrote: “Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field, I’ll meet you there.” Angie calls this field: Happiness…