Happiness is an emotion associated with feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense joy. A variety of philosophical, religious, psychological and biological approaches have been taken to defining happiness and identifying its sources.
Philosophers and religious thinkers have often defined happiness in terms of living a good life, or flourishing, rather than simply as an emotion. Happiness in this older sense was used to translate the Greek Eudaimonia, and is still used in virtue ethics. In everyday speech today, however, terms such as well-being or quality of life are usually used to signify the classical meaning, and happiness is reserved for the felt experience or experiences that philosophers historically called pleasure.
Happiness forms a central theme of Buddhist teachings, which focuses on obtaining freedom from suffering by following the Eightfold Path. In the Buddhist view, ultimate happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms. Aristotle saw happiness as "the virtuous activity of the soul in accordance with reason," or the practice of virtue. In Catholicism, the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity, or "blessed happiness", described by the 13th-century philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a Beatific Vision of God's essence in the next life. One psychological approach, positive psychology, describes happiness as consisting of positive emotions and positive activities.
While direct measurement of happiness is difficult, tools such as The Oxford Happiness Inventory have been developed by researchers. Physiological correlates to happiness can be measured through a variety of techniques, and survey research can be based on self-reported happiness levels.
Research has identified a number of correlates with happiness. These include religious involvement, parenthood, marital status, age and income. Happiness economics suggests that measures of public happiness should be used to supplement more traditional economic measures when evaluating how successful public policy is.
Though it may be impossible to measure happiness objectively, physiological correlates to happiness can be measured through a variety of techniques. For instance, psychophysiologist R.J. Davidson has developed reliable fMRI and EEG tests that correlate to subjective levels of happiness. Stefan Klein, in his book The Science of Happiness, links the dynamics of neurobiological systems (i.e., dopaminergic, opiate) to the concepts and findings of positive psychology and social psychology.
There is now extensive research suggesting that religious people are happier and less stressed. Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being "very happy" than the least religiously committed people. An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that "high religiousness predicts a rather lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with sex life and a sense of well-being, and a review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem and lower levels of hypertension, depression, and clinical delinquency. Studies by Keith Ward show that overall religion is a positive contributor to mental health, and a meta-analysis of 34 recent studies published between 1990 and 2001 also found that religiosity has a salutary relationship with psychological adjustment, being related to less psychological distress, more life satisfaction, and better self-actualization. Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers on the topic concluded that "the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse." However, most of those studies were conducted within the United States.
The individual level of happiness and religiosity correlations show up when measuring within the United States, a predominantly religious country. According to a 2007 paper by Liesbeth Snoep in the Journal of Happiness Studies, there is no significant correlation between religiosity and individual happiness in Netherlands and Denmark, countries that have lower rates of religion than the United States. When measuring between countries, the least religious industrialized countries such as in northern Europe have a much higher happiness than the most religious industrialized country, the USA, so cross country comparisons on religiosity and happiness seem to show a societal level correlation of increased secularization and decreased religiosity to increased happiness. It may be simply that non-religious people are less happy in a religious country, but everyone is happier in more secular, less religious countries.
Why Republicans are happier is not clear, but the result has been the same in nearly every asking of this measure since 1996, including one reading under former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and three under Republican President George W. Bush. Only in 1996 did Republicans and Democrats express about equal levels of happiness.
In addition, surveys conducted by the General Social Surveys, from its inception in 1972 through 2006, consistently show a happiness divide, with Republican men being happier than Democratic men, and Republican women being happier than Democratic women.
Research has also found that U.S. citizens who identify themselves as "conservative" are more likely to report being "happy" or "very happy" than those who consider themselves to be "liberal". On both sides of the political spectrum, extremists report being happier than moderates. Parents are more likely to report being happy than non-parents, and religious belief also appears to be positively correlated with happiness. Happiness is also correlated with the ability to rationalize or explain social and economic inequalities.
Research in the US has found that older Americans are generally happier than younger adults. The effect does not appear to be generational, because longitudinal research found that happiness increased over time for the older people who were studied. While older individuals reported more health problems, they reported fewer problems overall. Young adults reported more anger, anxiety, depression, financial problems, troubled relationships and career stress.
The Satisfaction with Life Index is an attempt to show the average self-reported happiness (subjective life satisfaction) in different nations. This is an example of recent trends to use direct measures of happiness, such as surveys asking people how happy they are, as an alternative to traditional measures of policy success to GDP or GNP. There are also several other examples of measures that include self-reported happiness as one variable. Happy Life Years, a concept brought by Dutch sociologist Veenhoven, combines self-reported happiness with life expectancy. The Happy Planet Index combines it with life expectancy and ecological footprint.
Gratifications involve full engagement, flow, elimination of self-consciousness, and blocking of felt emotions. But when a gratification comes to an end then positive emotions will be felt. Gratifications can be obtained or increased by developing signature strengths and virtues. Authenticity is the derivation of gratification and positive emotions from exercising signature strengths. The good life comes from using signature strengths to obtain abundant gratification in, for example, enjoying work and creative activities. The most profound sense of happiness is experienced through the meaningful life, achieved if one exercises one's unique strengths and virtues in a purpose greater than one's own immediate goals.
About one hundred years later, the Hindu thinker Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutra, wrote quite exhaustively on the psychological and ontological roots of bliss.
In the Nicomachean Ethics, written in 350 B.C.E., Aristotle stated that happiness is the only emotion that humans desire for its own sake. He observed that men sought riches, or honor, or health, not for their own sake but in order to be happy. Note that eudaimonia, the term we translate as "happiness", is for Aristotle an activity rather than an emotion or a state. Happiness is characteristic of a good life, that is, a life in which a man or woman fulfills human nature in an excellent way. People have a set of purposes which are typically human: they belong to our nature. The happy person is virtuous, meaning he or she has outstanding abilities and emotional tendencies which allow him or her to fulfill our common human ends. For Aristotle, then, happiness is "the virtuous activity of the soul in accordance with reason": happiness is the practice of virtue.
Many ethicists make arguments for how humans should behave, either individually or collectively, based on the resulting happiness of such behavior. Utilitarians, such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, advocated the greatest happiness principle as a guide for ethical behavior.
In Catholicism, the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity (Latin equivalent to the Greek eudaimonia), or "blessed happiness", described by the 13th-century philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a Beatific Vision of God's essence in the next life.
As an example, according to Augustine's Confessions, he lived much of his life without God. He sinned much and recognized his sinfulness. As a youth, he sinned for its own sake, and later, in the pursuit of a perceived good. When he lost a dear friend to death, it troubled him a lot, and he turned to God for answers. He turned to God to find true happiness and was converted to Christianity. He found that true happiness can only come from a relationship with God and appreciating God's creation for His sake, and not its own.
Happiness forms a central theme of Buddhist teachings. For ultimate freedom from suffering, the Eightfold Path leads its practitioner to Nirvana, a state of everlasting peace. Ultimate happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms. More mundane forms of happiness, such as acquiring wealth and maintaining good friendships, are also recognized as worthy goals for lay people (see sukha). Buddhism also encourages the generation of loving kindness and compassion, the desire for the happiness and welfare of all beings.
According to Buddha, "Mind is the forerunner of states of existence. Mind is chief, and (those states) are caused by the mind. If one speaks and acts with a pure mind, surely happiness will follow like one's own shadow!" In Buddhism, the third of the Four Noble Truths states "to eliminate suffering, eliminate craving," thus establishing happiness as beyond material and emotional possession and attainable only through an attentive practice leading to extinguishing of craving and aversion.
One of the core concepts in Buddhism is that of Dharma, also a central concept in Hinduism. Dharma is about expressing and acting according to one's core nature. This eliminates potential causes of disharmony in the mind and leads to happiness.