find happiness

What is Happiness?

Aristotle said that “happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”  Indeed, everyone wants to be happy. But what is happiness, really?

Does happiness mean something different to each one of us, or is there some common denominator?

One day, as I wondering about all this, I decided that it is time to find out.

I took out my “scientist hat,” went to the library, search out the psychology section, and took out a tall stack of book on happiness. As it turns out, scientists have a simple, clear definition of happiness, that’s surprisingly useful!

According to psychologists, happiness comes down to the number of positive and negative moment that we experience.

Whether a moment is positive or negative depends entirely on how we feel. So, for example, if you feel relaxed, excited, joyful, or peaceful, then you’re experiencing a positive moment. On the other hand, if you are bored, angry, or annoyed, then you’re experiencing a negative moment.

Our overall satisfaction with life, or “happiness score,” is simply the number of positive moments that we experience divided by the number of negatives ones. So the more frequently you experience positive emotions, the happier you are.

What does this all mean, and what can we learn from this to improve our lives?

Let’s break it down and find out. I distilled three things that the definition of happiness teaches us.  Read on and find out!

  1. 1.   Happiness Is Valuing Our Emotions

The first thing that popped out at me was the importance of our emotions. Scientists tell us that when it comes to happiness, how you feel is all that matters.

This goes against everything that society teaches us. We are taught that material goods and status will ultimately make us happy.

And when it comes to emotions, at times, our society appears to deny their very existence, never mind validate their importance. We are taught to hide and suppress our emotions, until we no longer even know what they are!

If you want to be happy, the first thing to do is to become mindful of your emotions. It isn’t hard: simply try to pay attention to how you feel at varies point in the day.

When you are practicing mindfulness, don’t try to change or control your emotions in any way. All you need to do is become aware of what they are and acknowledge them.

After a while, you can start to learn from your emotions. If you tend to feel good around certain people or during specific activities, then allow more of these into your life. On the other hand, if certain activities or people consistently cause you to feel bad, then it is a signal that they are detracting from your happiness.

  1. 2.  Happiness is Loving Your Job

We spend so much of our time at work. And we factor in commute time, and the time it takes to regenerate ourselves after work, then hardly anything at all is left.

When we don’t like our job, we collect so many moments of boredom and frustration that it becomes almost impossible to shift the balance in our favor. It is very hard to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative moments when we spend our days disliking what we do.

However, disking our jobs is all too common. A whooping 80% of people dislike theirs!

If you are part of that 80%, don’t despair. There is much hope.

Sometimes, we feel that it is too late to dream a new dream or plan a new life. But think about how much time is still ahead of you!

If you start now, then a year from now, you will be so much further ahead.

Believe in yourself, and trust your desires. Take your destiny into your own hands, and go after your dreams!

  1. 3.  Happiness is A Good Relationship

Not only do our relationships take up a substantial chunk of our time, but they also affect our emotions – even when we are not around our partner! Therefore, when it comes to happiness, our relationships take a front seat.

If you are currently single, choose a partner that will brings into your life many positive moments, and few bad ones. Pay close attention to how you feel around potential partners, and choose one who consistently makes you feel good.

If you are already in a relationship, know that whatever investment you make in your relationship, is also an investment in your own happiness. It is not possible to avoid all problems – rough patches are inedible in long term relationships. When problems do come up – don’t ignore then. Work through your relationship difficulties, so that your relationship can once again contribute to your overall happiness.

And when times are good, cherish your relationship. It is bringing more joy into your life than you may realize.


Happiness is our birthright, and our search for happiness is as natural as our breathing. Understanding what is happiness can make this search that much easier.

To help you on your journey, I put together an e-book about what is happiness and how to achieve and sustain it. It is available for free for a limited time. Get your copy of  Hacking Happiness now.

I wish you all the best on your journey.

To your happiness!


About The Author

Maya Ackerman, PhD. is a writer, researcher and teacher. She writes about happiness, work satisfaction and relationships on her blog Check out her latest book, Work for Love, in which she will show you how to discover and pursue your dream job.


17 Responses to What is Happiness?

  1. Aaron Morton says:

    Hi Maya,
    Great article and one that provides a good amount that people can go away with regarding happiness. 

    One trap that people can fall into I find when coaching clients is thinking happiness is a constant rather than an evaluation. So you can be happy overall but still experience times of sadness, or stress and I think that is natural.

    Enjoyed reading your article,

    The Confidence Lounge

  2. “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

    I believe happiness is a by-product of alignment. When the person we feel we are is in alignment with how we are living our lives then we will experience happiness.

    It’s more than simply trying to collect enough positive moments to outweight the negative ones. It’s about fulfillment. Calling. Purpose.  It’s about personal growth, integrity, and strength.

    Happiness is not some goal to be chased after like you would chase after your next promotion. It comes from living a self-determined life.  The life YOU want to live.


  3. Dan Erickson says:

    I’m happy and I know it because like Trevor who quoted Eleanor said, “happiness is a by-product.”  If we try to find happiness I don’t think we have much success.   If we live for something greater than ourselves, we just might find happiness along the way.

  4. Onder Hassan says:

    Excellent article Maya,
    I think Happiness is something that isn’t something that just happens, but is a result of a life well lived, that’s in line with who you are and your purpose. You know you’re living a happy life when what you do gives you a feeling of joy.
    It’s the reason why it’s not recommended to do things for the sake of survival. All of us are here on earth for a reason and out spirit knows why and what it should be doing on this earth. All we need to do is get out of our own way and just pursue it.

  5. john7878 says:

    Happiness is a fleeing emotion created by our brains in order to motivate us and others for current and future endeavours. Happiness must for this disappear periodically and get replaced by unhappiness so that we may be motivated to once again hunt for that elusive feeling. 

  6. mackerma says:

    Hi Aaron,

    You bring up an important point. It isn’t possible to feel good all the time, nor is this a healthy goal to strive towards – all it leads to is denial and frustration. We can’t selectively numb emotions, so when we try to avoid all negative feelings we end up numbing everything.  

    I completely agree with you. People who are happy overall still experience negative emotions, and it is important to acknowledge them. 

    Thanks for bringing up this important issue.


  7. mackerma says:

    Hi Trevor,

    Thanks for your comment! These two perspective fit together quite nicely. 

    The global, or macro, perspective is about having purpose, meaning, and pursuing long term goals. It is about living life in a way that is true to who we really are. The local one, which I focused on in the article, addresses the micro level, where we pay attention to our emotions on a moment by moment level. 

    Combining the two gives the complete package. Having purpose, vision, and long term plans is essential, and ends up creating positive experiences on the micro level. When we are not being true to ourselves, or out of alignment, we feel it in our every day life. 

    On the other hand, paying attention to how we feel moment by moment can be used to realign our vision and long term plans, as well help us evaluate whether we are on the right track. 

    Indeed, pursing your passion in life as well working on good relationships which I discuss in this article, can be informed from both the global and local perspectives. For example, our daily life suffers when we dislike our jobs, but fixing this requires vision and long term planning. 

    I was so inspired by your comment that I think I’ll write a full article about how the two perspectives fit together.

    Thanks so much for sharing your ideas!

    – Maya

  8. mackerma says:

    Hi John,

    Indeed, it isn’t possible (or even desirable) to experience only positive emotions. As you pointed out, negative emotions have a role to play. 
    The idea is to increase our happiness ratio based on what we learn from how we feel, for example, switch jobs if our current one makes us miserable – but not to eliminate negative feelings.Thanks for your comment!Maya

  9. mackerma says:

    Hi Onder,

    I completely agree with you about pursuing our purpose in life. It’s interesting how the global and local approaches to happiness connect: When we are are not following our purpose, then we feel empty and unsatisfied in our every day lives. Similarly, going after our dreams brings us both overall fulfilment and every day joy. 

    Thanks for the great comment!

  10. I’m curious. Hit me up when you’ve written the article. I’d like to read it.


  11. Great Article!!

    For once I agree with the scientists. When you break happiness down to its core, it is just a case of more positive moments over negative. I think the other qualities that some of the comments mention – fulfilment, life alignment, calling – although fundamental to being happy, are actually separate. You can pursue your life’s calling and still be unhappy if you find you’re stressing too much about it or trying to force it into being.

    That’s why you have to WORK on your happiness and gauge it every day. Afterall, you’d feel pretty empty if you fulfilled a life’s purpose and just felt nothing (it does happen.) Sure, align your life with the qualities and pursuits that make you happy but also keep a watch on how you’re feeling. You can raise your emotional state with a lot practise so why not choose to feel happy almost all the time.  

    (By the way Maya, where did you get that statistic on work disatisfaction? I’m always looking for STATS on people who are disatisfied with their work but can never really find any meaningful/clear research.)


  12. mackerma says:

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the engaging comment! Indeed, the big picture doesn’t work. We can get so caught up in our future goals that we completely ignore the present – and just as you say, achieving those goals won’t even necessarily lead to happiness. 

    This is why it is so essential to become aware of how we feel in our daily life, and integrate emotional awareness with our long term goals. 

    Thank you for asking for stats! It’s great to see that people are interested in them. Here is the reference: (in particular, take a look at page 31). 

    Btw, I just had a look at your blog and I really like it! 

    Keep in touch,

  13. Pingback: What is Happiness? « The Thoughts of an Old Fart The Thoughts of an Old Fart

  14. MJB says:

    I agree and love love love this article – my struggle …….that love the job thing ? I did with my whole heart loved all of it then January 31 I was down sized and I’m struggling. Not because it was my entire identity but because that loss brought up all the loss I have experienced in the last couple years.

  15. Pingback: What is Happiness? | Blogs about Health & Hypnosis

  16. Tim Z says:

    Happiness stems from the culmination of your life choices, poor choices over time, end up making someone feel bitter, lacking self- confidence, opening up more relationship issues and substance abuse.  Wheras, positive choices, over time, will build confidence, appreciation, and gratfullness. 

    So, it’s easy to get caught up in everyday monotony…. but in the end the tiny , insginificant choices comound into behaviors which ultimatly form your habits

    Choose to live, Choose to be positive, Choose to be happy! 

  17. Maya says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, MJB. I’m so sorry to hear about this… Everyone would have a hard time in your situation. 

    I hope that things will get better very soon. 

    Warmest wishes,


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