The Definition of Being Happy

being happy

The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”

― Laura Ingalls Wilder

“So he tasted the deep pain that is reserved only for the strong, just as he had tasted for a little while the deep happiness.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald, All the Sad Young Men

Can “being happy” really be defined? We are not dealing here with the general concept of happiness. “Being happy” carries in it a fundamentally existential sense and defining it as a concept is tantamount to robbing the experience of being happy of its essence. Besides, defining it in linguistic terms leads us to a standstill. Nobody will bite a conceptual definition of “being happy” for such will always be wanting from the viewpoint of every individual person whose experience of being happy depends on her/his personal circumstances in life. With a million people each of them having experienced being happy, a million definitions are in the offing. In other words, nobody is capable of coming up with a single universal definition of being happy. Moreover, defining a “living” experience in words is immediately putting boundaries around it. “Capturing” the spontaneity of experience as it happens is missing the next segments of its flow. Let’s appreciate a “living” flower undetached from its stem and hence from the totality of the plant where it is found. Let’s not pluck it from the stem through which life flows. Defining in words a spontaneous experience is like plucking a flower from its stem.

However, being happy may be observed. I know when someone–especially those who are closely related to me–is happy. There are some obvious physical manifestations to know when a person is happy. However, there are also instances when such manifestations are absent and it is only the one who experiences being happy who knows that s/he is happy. Being happy is a matter of subjective feeling so that we can only utter, “I am happy,” for other people to know and think that we are really happy. But there’s no possibility in whatever way of allowing an individual to enter into the state of another individual’s being at the very moment the latter is experiencing it. What is strictly considered at this point of the discussion is the fact that only the one who experiences being happy has the basic knowledge not of being happy in general but of her/his own experience of being happy.

The experience of being happy may be shared by two or more individuals. Nevertheless,  something may make one happy while the same thing could trigger sadness in another. The final results of a championship match between Real Madrid and Barcelona will surely make the supporters of one happy and those of the other sad. But in most instances, being happy on the one hand or being sad on the other is only a flitting thing. As a matter of feeling in the context of our earthly experience, both being happy and being sad are never perennial. In this sense, it is somewhat difficult to draw the demarcation line that distinguishes being happy from being pleased. Or perhaps, there is really no distinction between them. Perhaps, it is just our propensity to get dramatic and different that we diversify terms in our language and one instance is in the way we make being happy distinct in meaning from being pleased. As far as my two cents is concerned, I don’t see the difference between the two at all.

Besides, in a world  full of problems, troubles, headaches and sufferings, being happy is only in pockets and snatches, so to speak. Being happy is therefore  a short span of rosy moments as they are a rarity. We live life as it comes and we should meet it with a high sense of realism. In so doing, we find ourselves on a more stable platform that makes us realize how important soberness is. When the floodlights of pleasure hit us, we are not overwhelmed with seemingly endless exhilaration. When the dark shadows of tragedy strike us, we don’t resign at the corner of defeat and utter devastation.

Being happy and being sad are the two sides of the coin of life. Balance is the name of the game and such is shown when we have already mastered the art of standing on the edge.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 5 November 2015