The Changing Definition of Happiness
By Joan Marques
Ever considered how multi-interpretable the question
“Are you happy?” really
And it is not just that happiness means something
different for every
person, but also that for each individual the
substance of happiness changes
as circumstances do.
In fact this article could end right here: after the first
because that’s the heart of the matter. And a great piece of simple truth
too! But it may still be useful to clarify the above statement with an
example. Let’s consider the life of a fictitious person -- we will name her
Judy -- for a moment.
Judy is your everyday neighbor, who grew up in whatever environment you want
her to. And who now is a working mother, married or not, but under all
circumstances assiduous in keeping her family together and paying her
If you choose for Judy to be a member of an extended lower-class family in a
developing country, her idea of happiness at age 10 may have been to once
have her own bedroom with enough privacy to read a book without being
disturbed all the time. Or to be able to afford a store-purchased wardrobe
instead of the hand-me-downs from older siblings who had first inherited the
clothes from the Salvation Army truck that made a monthly donation to the
However, if you choose to place Judy in a more financially prosperous
environment, she would probably have rather dreamed of being famous, just
like the daughter of her Beverly Hills neighbors, or maybe even of having a
whole slew of sisters and brothers, just like she would have had if she had
been born in the more indigent environment described earlier.
Now, for both depictions of Judy, we can easily understand that her idea of
what happiness consists of will change as she grows older. While at age 17,
happiness may involve a certain lad in Judy’s live, age 25 may bring a more
prestigious content to this perception: Judy may then see happiness as the
attainment of a college degree, or the acquisition of a well-paid job. At
age 35, Judy’s sense of happiness may entail raising her children to
well-balanced adults, while age 45 may bring the awareness of a job that
provides deep personal fulfillment to this lady.
The simple portrayal of Judy here above illustrates a few things: The
content of happiness changes depending on our environment, our culture, our
beliefs, our personality, and the political environment we are performing
in. Judy’s story may also enhance our awareness about the fact that what
entails happiness for one person may be totally incomprehensible to another.
Another significant truth about happiness is, that, as we grow older, the
passion aspect is being replaced by stability: A person who is 60 years old
will perceive happiness with a loved one more as togetherness and
camaraderie, while a person at age 35, for instance, may perceive happiness
with the right partner as a very passionate matter.
A final insight to be shared here is, that happiness -- like success --
cannot be defined with one single all-encompassing statement, other than,
perhaps: “That, what makes a person feel good at a certain time in his or
So, the next time you ask someone “Are you happy?” consider the fact that
you might be amazed if you would ever find out what this person considered
happiness, or the lack thereof!
It is better to live in serene poverty than in hectic abundance. Everything
has a price. The price for nurturing your soul is turning away from
excessive stress, destruction of self-respect, and the constant strive in
lifestyle with the Joneses. But it’s worth it.
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