What IS Happiness, Anyway?

My dad (that I referenced a few days ago) and I have been talking a lot recently about this happiness business. Not because he wants me to stop pursuing my passion. He’s actually delighted that my siblings and I have all found ways to nurture our souls in professional and personal endeavours that are incredibly rewarding. He’s just wired to “dig deep” when thinking about things.

I’m kinda starting to think that the happiness thing starts to falter when we rely too much on what I call “peak experiences” to define happy and we stop paying attention to the really important little stuff

He also rightly points out, “I don’t even see a clear majority definition much less a consensus…makes me wonder where the right starting point is… maybe what I’m saying is that before you can be happy you have to learn how, and I’m not so sure lots of people know how.”

(And yes, this is the kind of “small talk” my family enjoys… LOL!) As usual, he’s got some really great points. What even IS this intangible thing we call “happiness”, and do we know how to be happy (or give ourselves permission)?

  • The dictionary defines happy as, “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.
  • , “The research suggests that happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life (for example, finding meaning in your work) and how good you feel on a day-to-day basis.”
  • says, “ Research in the field of often defines a happy person as someone who experiences frequent positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and pride, and infrequent (though not absent) negative emotions, such as sadness, , and (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).”

Me? I think happiness is a lot like art. I may not know for sure what happiness IS, but I know it when I feel it. More importantly, I don’t see happiness as the goal. Instead, I treat happiness like a barometer, allowing me to identify whether or not I’m living (working, experiencing) in a way that is in alignment with my authentic self, including my needs, my most important wants, and my most meaningful goals. Gandhi framed this as, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Happiness is a barometer that identifies how well I’m in alignment with my authentic self.

(So what if your authentic self is a jerk, you ask? Well, I suspect that a lot of people who are unpleasant folks are actually just fundamentally UNhappy. They’re out of alignment, they feel marginalized, disenfranchised, lonely like they can’t add value like they don’t have autonomy, and so on. Can we help them, or some of them, get their lives in alignment, too?)

Now, this idea that people don’t know how to be happy, or the related idea that they know HOW, they just don’t feel like they have (or can give themselves) permission to actually experience happiness, well… #TheStruggleIsReal. Despite “the pursuit of happiness” being one of only three things specifically named in America’s founding documents as an inalienable right, we are some. We’re constantly bombarded with messages about how terrible the world is, and I’m surprised all of our from the stress of keeping us freaked out all the time.

The good news is, we’re not helpless. We’ll explore ways to quiet the negative and accent the positive in future articles. I reject the notion that “life sucks and then you die”, and I refuse to accept that the best we can hope for is flashes of respite from the misery, usually packaged “As Seen on TV”, for the low, low price of our birthright of happiness.

For now, though, I encourage you to take some time and figure out for yourself what your personal definition of happiness is, and how that manifests in your life. After all, as the incredible and brilliant Lucille Ball said,

It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.


Sarah Ratekin
Sarah Ratekin
Sarah Ratekin, founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happiness Is Courage Inc., translates the science of happiness and well-being into actionable plans that get radically positive results. An enthusiastic positivity activist, speaker, author, and researcher, she believes we can change the world for the better by being positive, grateful, and kind, and she’s often quoted as saying “Happiness is a gauge, not a goal”. Her current focus is on helping organizations and teams navigate the particularly complex reality of today’s stressors and engagement challenges by nurturing healthier workplace cultures. No stranger to weird working environments, she believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to develop their strengths, find joy in their profession, and engage in the pursuit of happiness in the workplace and beyond. Sarah has a veritable army of garden gnomes keeping watch over her extensive container gardens and is the proud mother of four amazing humans who are making their positive own marks on the world. She and her spouse Kris, both certified Laughter Yoga leaders, also travel extensively bringing the joy and power of laughter and positivity with organizations of all sizes and industries. In their downtime, they enjoy exploring the outdoors (usually by kayak), dancing, and general merry adventuring. Sarah and her family currently reside in Indiana and travel as often as humanly possible.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE