A lot has been written about happiness and from psychology to philosophy, different theories of happiness have focused on topics of satisfaction, contentment, as well as spiritual liberation. But happiness is one of the most subjective mental states and many factors may be at play when a person is really pleased. Whereas anger or fear could be defined with physical responses and certain behavioural patterns, this isn’t so for happiness and that is the way happiness is very subjective. For instance one bar of chocolate could make one child happy whereas another child would want two chocolate bars to feel truly content.
Happiness is usually associated with some sort of profit or attainment. As soon as we achieve or attain something, we feel fulfilled and this triggers happiness. The attainment does not have to be material, it could very well be religious. It could even be physical and bodily, just as an insomniac individual would feel happy after a good night’s sleep. So, in defining happiness we have to locate a particular material, spiritual or physical gain or attainment and the contentment arising as a result of this attainment. The question would arise whether it’s possible to be happy without any attainment. I would say it is not possible to happy without attaining something and this attainment does not need to be immediate and may be related any past accomplishment. Now, you could say that you do know someone who’s always happy with no particular reason. It is that you haven’t found out the reason for his happiness. He may be a simple man with simple needs and happy after a hot bath or a wonderful meal, so that’s still some attainment. So, happiness always involves some attainment or desire fulfilment, however small or big that is.
Psychologists have used several versions including bio psychosocial and PERMA models to describe happiness suggesting that happiness is attained when our biological, psychological and sociological needs are met or when there is pleasure (bodily for instance), engagement (in certain activity for instance), relationships, meaning (for instance purpose of life) and accomplishments. I would differ and suggest that happiness being extremely subjective, some people could just be happy attaining joys whereas others would look for meaning or possibly relationships and accomplishments. So the level or type of attainment that makes one happy would vary from 1 person to another.
Thus some people would be happy when their basic needs are fulfilled whereas others would not be happy even after significant professional achievements as they may be expecting some other level or kind of accomplishment. Thus happiness largely depends upon our subjective comprehension of what it means to be happy. Since happiness is so subjective it cannot be strictly placed within models or frameworks even though the underlying common factor which makes people happy is always some kind of attainment, profit or need fulfilment.
The next level of analysis is whether happiness could be categorized into generalized happiness or a continued happy state of mind and specific happiness for attaining one of the specific pleasures or goals. I’d suggest that there can’t be a generalized state of happiness with no particular reason. A seemingly delighted person might not be really happy or may be genuinely happy because he might have attained an exalted spiritual condition or accumulated substantial wealth. So again as we see a continued state of happiness may also be clarified with attainment.
The attainment could be social when we form relationships and feel happy or simply speak to strangers at a huge event or stay engaged in social activity, or the attainment could be religious when we seek and even find some kind of spiritual liberation. The attainment or need fulfilment could be psychological when our love needs are fulfilled or once we reach our targets or fulfil our aspirations. The biological, emotional, social and religious aspects of attainment could provide happiness according to their needs. Thus happiness is intricately tied to our specific needs although these demands could be interrelated as for example the need for power or status could be both social and psychological.
Thus we differentiate the factors that could lead to happiness
1. Biological (bodily pleasures, basic needs)
3. Psychological (emotional, love, friendship, personal accomplishments)
4. Spiritual (finding meaning and purpose, transpersonal needs)
There might be several reactions to happiness, which might range from grinning to engaging in rigorous physical activity as happiness could indicate a sudden surge in energy levels. Individuals who engage in physical activity are more likely to be happy due to improved blood circulation and overall good health. However happiness being a very subjective emotional state, in order to feel genuinely happy, some achievement in terms of long term goals like love or conjugal life, wealth, spiritual liberation, or professional accomplishment could assist a person to achieve a continued happy frame of mind. A child may show a protracted state of happiness when sufficient care and love are offered by their parents or carers.
From a more psychoanalytic viewpoint, happiness would be linked to desire, libido, our energy levels as well as the defense mechanisms that we unconsciously use to vent our frustration out and thus stay happy or calm. Happiness would obviously raise our libidinal amounts and make us more lively and high levels of energy can then make us happy, so this procedure is cyclical. Several scientific studies have shown that happiness is directly linked to our levels of energy.
Contemplating defense mechanisms, psychoanalysis could in a way suggest that happiness is in fact acting out or response formation when we show certain reactions that may be completely opposite to what we feel. For example in reaction formation we may show happiness, when in fact we are sad or depressed. Although genuine happiness could be explained with psychoanalysis as well, as for instance, an artist is genuinely happy when he can sublimate his desires to socially acceptable forms of expression through his imagination. A sportsman is genuinely happy when he can channel his aggressive or sexual desires through game or rigorous activity. These defense mechanisms in psychoanalysis could actually create genuine happiness in people because of the inherent survival and coping strategies involved in these defenses.
In the end, happiness being a state of mind could be completely subjective and would evoke extreme subjective reactions. For instance, someone laughs on hearing a joke and feel happy about it and someone else would be sarcastic or may not feel the same degree of excitement. Whereas anger and other emotions could be explained in terms of physical responses, happiness usually doesn’t have defined physical responses although there is a general positive sense of well being and the physical responses could vary considerably. As I have stated on the psychology of emotions, it would be necessary to find out the elements of feeling and physiological reaction for every emotion including psychology and happiness has an extensive research project to consider for the future.