What do we mean by happiness as a way of life?

Interestingly ‘eudaimonia’ is described as the state of having an objectively desirable life. I wonder if this is problematic. In this age of social media, many people seem to put a lot of work into creating an impression of their life as objectively desirable. In fact, as we all know, this is often an illusion – and one that can cause others distress. Many peoples’ Facebook pages in fact suggest they have achieved what Faulks said was impossible – they are in a happy mood all the time. No wonder others beat themselves up when they make those comparisons and find they can’t reach this unachievable goal.Instead, lets think about a subjectively satisfactory life, one which we ourselves feel is fulfilling and enjoyable.

Happiness by this definition seems to be something that takes practice (you can’t practice a mood in quite the same way) and involves learning about yourself, recognising what it is in your life that gives you joy and seeking it out where you can. I wonder if the process of learning itself is a vital ingredient of this sort of fulfilment and satisfaction.

This is what Mindapples is starting to help people think about. Similarly, CALM is perhaps recognising that individuals can achieve happiness in many ways – and its role is to help them move towards this and away from a more miserable life.It also perhaps involves feeling an element of control, knowing that you are not at the mercy of the whims of moods and emotions but have the ability and awareness to maintain a level of life satisfaction in the face of external difficulties. I think this is part of the reason I would tend to say I have a happy life despite managing depression and the difficulties that can bring. This brings me back to Kat’s app – and TheSite.org of course. In helping young people find information and start to overcome difficulties they are helping in this process of growing self awareness and the ability to manage our lives.

Know your own happiness

There is an enormously complex range of philosophical and psychological writing and research on emotions and happiness. This post tries to explore a few of these issues from a mental health perspective but I’m aware that it simplifies some concepts and barely scratches the surface of others.

For an insight into some of the ways people think about and view happiness – and some responses from philosophers have a look at the AskPhilosophers site under happiness. One question that struck me as relevant was one that said:

“If philosophers are asked ‘what makes people happy?’ why do they sit around and speculate on what should make people happy instead of walking out into the street and asking people ‘are you happy? if so why?’”.

You can read the answer given by Allen Stairs here. He says that of course there is a lot to learn about happiness by getting out or your armchair or away from your desk – but to do this we need to have some well thought out ideas about what we are asking and what counts as an answer.

In the same way, to find our own happiness and manage our own mental wellbeing we need to read and think about what we want and what we mean by it. We also need to go out and chat to others – friends, loved ones, family, peers, others who are experiencing similar things – and find out what they think and what works for them.

I hope that this is what this post has got you thinking about. The concept and language of happiness is used in a whole range of ways in our day to day life and it’s worth thinking about how you use it and whether your definition, or lack of it, helps or hinders you.