A lot has been written about happiness and from psychology to philosophy, different theories of happiness have concentrated on topics of satisfaction, contentment, as well as spiritual liberation. But happiness is one of the very subjective mental states and several factors could be at play when a person is really pleased. Whereas anger or anxiety could be defined with bodily reactions and certain behavioural patterns, this isn’t so for happiness and that’s the way happiness is extremely subjective. For example one bar of chocolate could make 1 child happy whereas another kid would want two chocolate bars to feel genuinely happy.
Happiness is generally associated with some kind of profit or attainment. When we reach or attain something, we feel satisfied and this causes happiness. The attainment doesn’t have to be material, it might very well be religious. It might even be physical and bodily, just as an insomniac person would feel happy after a good night’s sleep. So, in defining joy we must find a particular material, spiritual or physical gain or attainment and the contentment arising because of this attainment. The question would arise whether it is possible to be happy with no attainment. I would say that it is not possible to joyful without attaining something and this attainment doesn’t need to be immediate and may be related any past accomplishment. Now, you could say that you do know somebody who is always happy without any particular reason. It’s that you have not found out the reason for his happiness. He may be a simple man with simple needs and happy after a warm bath or a nice meal, so that’s still some attainment.
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 satisfied or when there’s pleasure (bodily for example ), engagement (in some activity for instance), relationships, meaning (for example purpose of life) and achievements. I would disagree and suggest that happiness being extremely subjective, some people may just be happy attaining pleasures whereas others would seek meaning or possibly relationships and accomplishments. So the level or kind of success which makes one happy would vary from 1 person to another.
Thus some people are happy when their basic needs are fulfilled whereas some others would not be happy even after significant professional achievements because they might be expecting another level or kind of accomplishment. Thus happiness largely depends on our subjective understanding of what it means to be happy. Since happiness is so subjective it cannot be strictly placed within models or frameworks although the underlying common factor that makes people happy is always some type of attainment, gain or need fulfilment.
The next level of analysis is if happiness could be categorized to generalized happiness or a continuing happy state of mind and particular happiness for attaining one of the specific pleasures or goals. I’d suggest that there cannot be a generalized state of happiness without a particular reason. A seemingly happy person might not be genuinely happy or might 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 could also be explained with attainment.
The attainment could be social when we form relationships and feel happy or simply speak to strangers at a large event or remain engaged in social action, or the attainment could be religious when we seek and even find some type of spiritual liberation. The attainment or desire fulfilment could be psychological when our love needs are fulfilled or when we reach our targets or fulfil our ambitions. The biological, emotional, social and religious aspects of attainment could offer happiness according to their needs. Thus happiness is intricately tied to our specific needs although these needs could be interrelated as for example the need for status or power could be both social and psychological.
Thus we differentiate the variables that could lead to happiness
1. Biological (bodily delights, basic needs)
3. Psychological (emotional, love, friendship, personal achievements )
4. Spiritual (finding meaning and purpose, transpersonal needs)
There might be several reactions to happiness and this might vary from grinning to engaging in rigorous physical activity as joy could mean a sudden surge in energy levels. People who engage in physical activity are more likely to be happy because of improved blood circulation and general good health. However happiness being a very subjective emotional state, in order to feel genuinely happy, some accomplishment in terms of long term goals such as love or conjugal life, wealth, spiritual liberation, or professional accomplishment could assist a person to attain a continued happy frame of mind. The people that have a protracted state of happiness are generally lively, sporty, fun loving and optimistic. A child may show a protracted state of happiness when adequate care and love are provided by their parents or carers.
From a more psychoanalytic viewpoint, happiness would be linked to desire, libido, our energy levels and even the defense mechanisms that we unconsciously use to vent out our frustration and so stay happy or calm. Happiness would naturally raise our libidinal levels and make us more energetic and high levels of energy could in turn make us happy, so this process is cyclical.
Contemplating defense mechanisms, psychoanalysis can in a way indicate that happiness is in fact acting out or reaction formation when we show certain reactions that could be completely opposite to what we believe. For example in response formation we might show happiness, when in fact we are sad or depressed. Although genuine happiness could be clarified with psychoanalysis as well, as for instance, an artist is really happy when he can sublimate his desires to socially acceptable forms of expression through his imagination. A sportsman is really happy when he can channel his sexual or aggressive desires through game or rigorous activity. So these defense mechanisms in psychoanalysis might actually create genuine happiness in people because of the inherent survival and coping strategies involved in these defenses.
Finally, happiness being a state of mind would be completely subjective and would evoke extreme subjective reactions. As an example, someone laughs hearing a joke and feel happy about it and somebody else would be sarcastic or may not feel the same degree of excitement. As I have stated on the psychology of emotions, it would be necessary to determine the components of feeling and bodily reaction for every emotion including psychology and happiness has an extensive research project to consider for the future.