Defining Happiness

ProdPod: Episode 88 — Defining Happiness

As I’ve written about before, “happiness” is a terrible word to me. It’s my version of a four-letter word in regard to positive psychology and personal productivity. And yet, we continue to keep using it; I’m guilty of it as well from time to time. While it seems like a universal term, it’s actually a rather confusing word. If the purpose of communication is to convey information clearly to another, why circumvent the process with vagaries? Dr. Daniel Kahneman, who I’ve written about before, agrees with me in his famous TED talk, “Riddle of Remembering and Experiencing Self.” What does it mean when you say you’re happy? And, to what degree? Difficult to interpret, right?

So, I’m challenging everyone to think of the different meanings of happiness and use better words that communicate clearly what you feel. Thankfully, Dr. Barbara Frederickson, professor of psychology at the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina, and author of the book, Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive, outlines the 10 most frequent positive emotions for us. In psychology, more specifically, we are concerned with positive affect–the experience of these good feelings or emotions. So, keep that in mind when you’re self-describing your own emotional experiences to others, or say, journaling. And, Dr. Frederickson has itemized them neatly as: joy, pride, gratitude, serenity, amusement, love, interest, hope, inspiration, and awe.

Joy is a positive moment with impact.

Gratitude is feeling thankful for someone’s actions, or a fixed or changed state of self or something.

Serenity is your own peace of mind and body.

Interest is a newness found, which excites our attention.

Hope is when we look forward to uncertainty.

Pride is a job well done.

Amusement is a bundle of laughter.

Inspiration is life’s stimulus; you’re moved to feel, to start and to think in the direction you desire.

Awe is thinking or experiencing something greater than one’s self.

And, Love is the inexplicable, all-encompassing emotion that drives us to connect, to share and to be intimate with our fellow person.

Now, I’ve only chosen positive emotions. There are a slew of negative emotions too. And, while I recommend you start with just learning to identify your specific positive affects, you’ll likely want to broaden your horizons sometime down the road with accurately describing bad feelings you have as well. I just feel like you should always put the positive ahead of the negative.

So, the next time you feel positive about life, someone, yourself or something, ask yourself…how do I really feel? It’s not exactly “happiness” you feel; it’s something more beautiful than that, when you put the right word to it. And when we can all communicate how we truly feel positively, that will make me feel such joy, pride, gratitude, serenity, amusement, love, interest, hope and awe.

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