What Is The True Meaning Of Happiness?

In a world in which everything else seems so hard, what, we wonder, does happiness mean? Or, more precisely: If we assume that happiness means happiness — in the sense of having a great life filled with love and joy — then what does all this actually mean to us? It’s not clear. Maybe we need a way to define happiness so that we can all agree on it — as the goal, the purpose of life. That’s what philosophy can do.

How do we define happiness, then? For centuries, philosophers and religious leaders have struggled. Some have even argued that we lack an actual definition of what it is. But in the past few decades, neuroscience has begun to play an increasingly important role in defining our lives, and we may have finally found a way to have a clearer grasp of this elusive concept. To understand this, it’s helpful to trace the history of the term. It was first applied to an ancient Greek figure, the poet Seneca, in the first century BC. Seneca saw happiness as a virtue shared by everyone: “It is the sum of all our virtues: when it is ours, everything that is good is good,” Seneca wrote. Then it was translated into German as “Gott und Todes,” or “good and happy ways.” And then in the 19th century, German philosopher and psychologist Martin Heidegger brought it out of Heidegger’s philosophy of Being and becoming to be called “Unsichtbare Erkennung,” or “unshakable being.”

In Germany, a few other philosophers and psychologists used the term “Menschlichkeit” to describe someone who is able to experience some form of pleasure or joy. But the “Happiness Research Institute” (which I founded in 1994) was the first group to use the term “Das Erkennung” to describe an individual’s sense of joy or well-being.

The term “Happiness Research Institute”

What do we mean by “happiness” and how do we define it? And of course, how do we measure its value? In fact, that is the problem. To measure the value of an experience, we need to know how it affects other people. We use scientific methods to get that information. However, some people have very different definitions of happiness. To them, it’s not about the happiness of the individual, but about the happiness of the society, the state, the nation, or the race as a whole. Their definition is often a matter of self-interest: a kind of morality. They define happiness as the achievement of goals that are beneficial to themselves, and that may benefit the people around them. Other people, by contrast, often believe that happiness is a fundamental right in a free society: a “fundamental human right.” Even if they accept that some happiness is good — if, say, they accept that some happiness is an ingredient of a happy mind, or a happy body, or maybe even a happy brain — they may still argue that happiness is a matter of individual preference and choice. They may argue that happiness is about getting what one wants most — more money, more money, etc. — not the fulfillment of a higher purpose. They argue that, in many ways, happiness should be seen in economic terms: as an economic good whose attainment, in aggregate aggregate, benefits those who have the opportunity to make it.

And now, back to you. In your own life, how do you measure the value of your happiness? What matters most is finding ways to satisfy the needs of yourself and of others. The first and simplest way, for most of us, is to live our own lives — whether that’s a day or an lifetime. To me, this seems straightforward and obvious: it would certainly be more helpful to others if you have some sense of what’s good for you, and then you act to make that happen. But sometimes, people find that they don’t have that sense in a given society. Sometimes, instead of just living as we’d like to live, they find themselves reduced to a life of forced poverty, in order to survive. Other times, they may find themselves in countries where the concept of prosperity isn’t considered a basic human right. In all of these places, it’s not clear at all if their lives are, in the end, happy or if they are “merely” happy.

Then, there’s the question of the value of “material rewards.”