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The Changing Definition of Happiness
By Joan Marques

Ever considered how multi-interpretable the question “Are you happy?” really is? 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 paragraph, 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 monthly bills.

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 neighborhood center.

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 her life.”

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.

See Also:

Do You Worry Too Much?
Worry is a focus on fear, which leads to tension, anxiety, anger, and exhaustion. Here are ten tips to help you stop worrying.

Cultivate A Positive Attitude
Having a positive attitude is one of the greatest blessings in life and cultivating one is the best service we can do to ourselves.

1 Simple Key To Happiness
1 simple key to happiness? Do what you enjoy, and enjoy what you do!

Joan Marques, Burbank, February 28, 2004

Joan Marques, holds an MBA, is a doctoral candidate in Organizational Leadership, and a university instructor in Business and Management in Burbank, California. You may visit her web site at http://www.joanmarques.com

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