Trying to define happiness is like trying to explain colors to a blind person. This is because happiness is an idea, and it is defined by other ideas. Therefore, it is not concrete and is subject to many interpretations. Even dictionaries cannot quite define happiness.
I've been thinking about what happiness is lately. After all, I am on a quest for it, so I should have an idea of what kind of happiness I am looking for.
I was reading an article, as I often do, called "The World's Happiest Countries" by Christopher Helman for Forbes. It was one of the best written articles on the subject. He made an attempt to define what happiness was, or at least try and come up with a list of things that we often associate with happiness. I quote: "For most, being happy starts with having enough money to do what you want and buy what you want. A nice home, food, clothes, car, leisure...It's being healthy, free from pain, being able to take care of yourself. It's having good times with friends and family...being able to speak what's on your mind without fear, to worship the God of your choosing, and to feel safe and secure in your own home...having opportunity--to get an education, to be an entrepreneur."
By now you are probably wondering what the top 5 happiest nations are. And you are probably going to guess a Scandinavian country made the top spot. And you would be correct. Norway wins. After all they have a lot of amenities: $53,000 GDP, a beautiful environment, nice people, natural nonrenewable resources like oil, and good health care. Seems like a great place. Following Norway is Denmark, which happens to boast the highest quality of living in the world (why, then, it is not number one, I don't know). They also enjoy good education and they like their government. Following is Finland, another Scandinavian country, which is very similar to both Denmark and Norway. To find the last 2 happiest nations we travel all the way to the southern Indian Ocean - Australia takes 4th and New Zealand, 5th.
What all these countries have in common is basically a high gross domestic product, governments that the people like, universal health care, beautiful landscape, and good economies. This can very easily bring people a lot of happiness.
I also read an article in one of my issues of National Geographic Traveler about an unexpected happy nation. the article "Happily Ever After" explains how people in Bhutan perceive happiness. Bhutan is a small Asian country in between the 2 big Asian super powers, China and India. The king of Bhutan launched the GNH campaign - Gross National Happiness - and proclaimed that it was more important than GDP, a means through which we measure wealth, and in turn, happiness. Perhaps Bhutan's isolation aids in the protection of it's unique ideals, but perhaps it is the unique philosophy of the Bhutanese people. The author writes about how he met a man there who said, "In our most beautiful places, we build temples and monasteries, and everybody goes there. In your most beautiful places, you build five-star resorts, and only the very rich go there."
The Bhutanese see opportunities as something that anyone can attain - not just the wealthy. And maybe that is why they are happy - because they don't worry about wealth and they are happy because the poor man can enjoy something the same as the rich man.
And then there are other extremes, like the incredibly rich who cannot see how lucky they are, who can always have access to everything they want. And if they don't have it, they can get it. Yet they cannot find happiness. And there are some who live on the streets who are happy each day to be alive. Or those who live in sickness, in abusive situations, in impoverished countries, or who just never got the long end of the wishbone - and they seem to find optimism and hope.
All of these happiness philosophies are valid; the Danes and Australians are not bad people because they equate happiness with wealth. And the Bhutanese are not necessarily better because of their humble ways of life. They are different perceptions of one central idea that we all hope to attain: happiness.
What is your happiness? For me, I feel a mix between the Bhutanese GNH and the traditional ways that we think of. I would be happy with money, good health care, and a good government, but I hope to look past those material things and at the immaterial joys like family, friends, and love.
Here is an interesting question to ask people; I ask people all the time. I will say, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" or "what do you hope to be 10 years from now?" The responses are typical: pharmacist, doctor, musician, astronaut, professional baseball player, vet nurse, teacher, photographer. But not one person says, "When I grow up, I want to be happy."