Reworking the definition of happiness

I sometimes think that the biggest obstacle to achieving happiness is that so many of us really, really, really don’t know what it actually is.

On Sunday, I read an article in Ireland’s Sunday Independent.

(Note to self: Stop reading newspapers, Shane. You know you’re happier when you give them a wide berth. From letter pages to columnists to editorials, they’re cover-to-cover complaints, and add so little value to your life, and bring your mood level down several notches quicker than almost anything else. If something is important enough, you will hear about it. Otherwise, just stop buying papers. It will help you save time, save money and be happier.)

Anyway, the Sunday Independent included a full-page broadsheet spread telling us how to survive spending time with toxic family members this Christmas. (For reference only, here’s the link. I’m not suggesting you read it.)

One of the pieces of advice was:

Aim for connection, not happiness

Don’t look for constant happiness — it can be superficial and you’re not going to get it. Instead look for shared connections and an understanding of one another. What are their hopes, dreams, fears, loves, losses?

That’s what would be really fulfilling. Not forced joviality — but real connection and belonging.

This one almost made me throw the newspaper across the room.

What it seems to be saying is that looking for joviality is required for a state of happiness, or even that happiness and “forced joviality” are one and the same thing.

In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the definition of happiness; about the way we think of happiness.

I hear people say things like this all the time:

I don’t want to be happy. I don’t want to be satisfied.

As if happiness is lying in a hammock in Bali, sipping cocktails and contributing nothing to the world.

It’s not.

The absence of peace of mind is unhappiness. So for me, happiness could be defined as peace of mind in the moment.

Happiness is not joy, although joy is part of happiness.

Happiness is also love, starting with love of self, which for so many of us is the hardest bit about love.

Happiness is also grief, because for true grief there must be true love, and true love is essential to happiness.

Happiness is also contribution and giving.

Happiness is also living well, living intentionally, living purposefully.

Happiness is being present and accepting ourselves right now, and also trying to do something that will make us a little better tomorrow.

Happiness is a lot of things.

But forced joviality and having no room for negative emotions? That couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you like to receive Shane’s daily blog on living a life well lived as an email straight to your inbox every day, add your details to the form below. (There are checkboxes for Shane’s weekly bullet points and longer monthly newsletter too. Check them to receive everything.)