What Is Happiness?

If you’re a new subscriber, welcome!  Feel free to share this post with others in your network. 

read time:  about 2 minutes

Happiness isn’t just a fleeting emotion.  Get ready to broaden your thinking about the pursuit of happiness.

We’re all familiar with the standard definition of “happy.”  Dictionary.com defines it as 1) an array of emotions – delighted, pleased, or glad – as in “I’m happy to meet you” and 2) characterized by pleasure, contentment or joy, as in “My happy place is on the beach at sunset.”

My personal view of happiness goes much deeper than feelings of delight or contentment.  It also includes:

  • Making a meaningful contribution to the world,
  • Expressing myself through my unique talents, skills, and strengths,
  • Connecting with others in deep, satisfying relationships, and
  • Accomplishing everything possible.

Happiness means flourishing.  According to science, these aren’t just ideals or nice-to-haves.  They are the building blocks of flourishing individuals and organizations.

The five building blocks are 1) positivity and the experience of positive emotions, 2) engagement, 3) positive relationships, 4) meaning and purpose, and 5) achievement.

Positive emotions open our hearts and minds, enable learning, and boost creativity.

Engagement creates peak performance and experiences.

Positive relationships provide acceptance, support, and a sense of belonging.

Meaning and purpose connect us with something bigger than ourselves.

Achievement enables mastery, using our unique strengths, skills, and talents.

These building blocks work together to form a strong foundation of happiness and flourishing.  Let me demonstrate with an example from my own life:  publishing this blog.

Of course, my primary goal in publishing this blog is to help you cultivate happiness in your life!  But I’ll explain how it also cultivates happiness in mine.

By publishing this blog, I’m able to:

  1. Experience positive emotions when I create new content, read your comments, and watch visitor stats increase.   Publishing this blog is a source of inspiration, joy, gratitude, and hope for me.
  2. Get into “the zone” while writing new blog posts.  Publishing this blog engages me fully.
  3. Build relationships with new readers and deepen relationships with clients, colleagues, family, and friends, as we exchange ideas and learn new things from one another.  Publishing this blog deepens my relationships.
  4. Connect with a purpose that’s bigger than me – a movement to help other individuals and organizations flourish.  Publishing this blog is personally meaningful and promotes a higher purpose.
  5. Hone my writing and critical thinking skills, and utilize my signature strengths of creativity, love of learning, and humor.  Publishing this blog allows me to use my unique talents and skills to build mastery in applying Positive Psychology knowledge and tools.

You can see how happiness goes way beyond “I’m happy to meet you.”  Cultivating happiness is like putting deposits into a bank account.  The greater the deposits, the bigger the balance.  The bigger the balance, the larger the cushion when withdrawals are made.  Withdrawals, of course, are daily stresses and adversity.

This framework for understanding happiness is empowering.  It demonstrates that we have a large measure of control over whether we flourish or not, through daily choices and actions to cultivate positive emotions and relationships, engagement, meaning, and achievement.

Maybe one day, the Dictionary.com definition of happiness will be updated.  In the meantime, take a moment to consider your own views on happiness.

What are you doing right now to cultivate happiness in your life?

With gratitude for putting happiness first,




Csiksentmihalyi, Mihaly (1999).  If We’re So Rich, Why Aren’t We Happy?  American Psychologist.

Fredrickson, Barbara (2009).  Positivity:  Top Notch Research Reveals the 3:1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press.

Seligman, Martin (2011).  Flourish:  A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.  New York:  Free Press.

Share Button

12 thoughts on “What Is Happiness?

  1. Robin

    Whenever I work on the One Earth Film Festival that we will be holding again here in Oak Park (March 7th, 8th and 9th, 2014) , I feel happy, happy, happy. I love the cause (showing films about sustainability), the people I work with, and that I have to use all my skills – perfect! This was great, Jane. Thank you for reminding me that this is a huge source of happiness in my life. Robin

    1. Jane Post author

      Thanks for your comment – it’s a great example of cultivating happiness in volunteer opportunities. You go, Robin!

  2. Terry

    Great stuff, Jane! Thanks so much for sharing this message. It not only enlarges my sense of what happiness can (and should) be in my life, but it also demonstrates that I have some direct control and responsibility for my own state of happiness. It doesn’t seem so random — and therefore elusive.

    BTW, I see that you referenced Mihaly — ‘Mike’ was my Master’s Thesis advisor at the University of Chicago, and I think he’s a great resource.

    1. Jane Post author

      I’m glad this was helpful, Terry. Are you still in touch with “Mike?” He is such a legend! Maybe you can introduce me one day…I have a thousand questions about his research on engagement and flow. :)

  3. Kevin

    By reading this blog, I am able to:

    Experience positive emotions from seeing a friend provide insight and analysis on an important topic.

    Engage with like minded others on the same journey.

    Form new, positive relationships with fellow FOJs (friends of Jane).

    Connect with the common purpose you shared so eloquently.

    And, I’m excited about what we can achieve together.

    Happy when I see a new blog post of yours,

    Kevin in Madison

    1. Jane Post author

      Kevin, I love your application of the 5 building blocks. Thank you for sharing that. I look forward to the journey with you!

  4. Colin

    I’m really HAPPY to be receiving this blog and engaging in this conversation with you, Jane. I’m excited to learn more about the 5 building blocks of Happiness.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>