What does it mean to be happy?
We are positive that if you were to type the above question into Google you’d find millions of different answers attempting to define what happiness is. The majority of results would probably contain methods or guidance for how to love ourselves & others, finding existential meaning, descriptive scientific explanations, and endless testimonials from people giving their interpretation of what it takes to be happy, along with the methods they chose to find the answer.
If we were to scour through the endless self-help books, lifestyle change hacks, bible verses, etc., we’d likely be unable to find one definitive method or answer because of the infinite amount of variables–each person has their own wants, needs, and basic definitions to what it means to be happy, and that’s why there are so many different answers. Most, if not all, of the available responses provide blanket statements or ideologies that appeal to a specific demographic or apply them to commonly felt human emotions, such as isolation, insignificance, or loneliness.
Since there are ridiculous amounts of efforts out there to help people answer the question, us here at ShortLifeLongRoad would like to throw our thoughts into the fray, but you may not like them…
The happiness most of us are searching for doesn’t exist.
Our impression of human behavior tells us that most people are looking for one or more sources of constant happiness. Whether it be money, fame, comfort, a sense of purpose, etc., many seem to believe that if they find what it is they’re looking for, they’ll consistently be happy. Basic psychology and other scientific studies tell us that it is impossible to be happy all the time (unless a disorder came into play).
When one experiences moments of happiness, several chemicals and signals fire off in the brain, creating a sense of euphoria. New experiences create new sensations of happiness depending on what chemicals are released and where they travel throughout the brain. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this process.
After the “happy” chemicals are released, the brain and body begin to return themselves to its normal or resting state. This is the state in which we spend most of our time. During this process, the brain needs to regenerate those same chemicals in order to release them the next time we experience happiness. The problem is, if our happy senses are triggered before the recuperation process is complete, the brain will have fewer chemicals to release than it did the first time, making your new experience less enjoyable. Also, the other parts of the brain that are stimulated by these chemicals are now familiar with the reaction, therefore, de-sensitizing them during repeated activities or recurring events.
Think about going to your favorite amusement park and standing in line for your first thrill ride. Anticipation & excitement paired with a bit of fear release several chemicals in your brain before you are even strapped into the seat. After you go down the first few drops, you are now in a euphoric state. Typically, by the time you get off the ride, you are already feeling the effects of returning to your state of rest. This is also known as “coming down.”
Let’s say you’re able to get onto another ride within a short period of time. You’d probably notice you aren’t as excited, afraid, etc. because none of those chemicals had enough time to rejuvenate. What would be even worse, would be getting onto the same ride two or three times in a row because it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable as it was the first time. Your mind and body would be far too accustomed to the stimulation and experience. The ride would start to feel boring and as less satisfying as ever because the mechanisms within your body are unable to produce the original effects, like most day-to-day stimulants we experience (lack of fulfillment at work, feeling a relationship has become tedious or lacks passion, etc.)
This is part of the reason people succumb to the effects of drugs or other addictive substances. The first time someone smokes or drinks there is a new sensation and a number of chemicals released (or blocked from being released, depending on the type of substance) creating another euphoric state. The problem after coming down is that same “High” is no longer experienced so they take more of the substance in the hopes of repeating the same effects as the first time. The more they do it, the more they take.
Too often, the resting state experienced after moments of extreme happiness or highs are confused with sadness or disappointment when we are simply getting used to being in our normal state again.
We believe that most of us are addicts but don’t realize we’re in constant search of our next high. Our society is stuck in a mindset that tells us to find the next potential source of happiness because the ones we’ve found have worn off. We often think to ourselves, “If only I had more money, or more kids, or a better job, a better body, or better significant other, then I’d be happy.” From what we’ve learned in this life is that it is not true. It is a delusion we’ve created for ourselves.
Our answer/suggestions to the question we asked at the beginning of this post is to find happiness through being content or, during your state of rest. Barring severe circumstances and mental illness (like suffering through depression), the majority of us spend our lives in a state of rest, neither happy or unhappy…simply content. Don’t mistake a resting state for being unhappy. Recognize the difference and be happy that contentedness is possible for you. Then, all other happiness will be a bonus!
We’re sure our readers have their own definitions of happiness…share them with us in the ‘Comments’ section below!