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Happiness is Not a Feeling

If you, like many others, think that happiness is a feeling you get when you’ve achieved what you want or you’re with people you love, apparently this is incorrect, at least according to Professor Arthur Brooks who teaches happiness at Harvard University, and who was one of the speakers at The World Happiness Summit in London last week. According to Brooks, if we attach happiness to a feeling, we’ll be chasing it like a vapour for the rest of our life. Instead, he says we should consider happiness as more tangible, and feelings merely as information about our level of happiness. ‘Feelings are evidence of our happiness in the same way that the smell of your dinner is evidence of your dinner.’ Brooks elaborates that dinner is more tangible than its smell and consists of many things, as does happiness.


I have always felt that happiness is a state of being rather than a feeling, so this analogy resonates!


Feelings of course are emotions we have become aware of, that are indeed giving us information, about our thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, interpretations and reactions to the world and life in general. Happiness as a state is the sum of a number of our feelings, which -in my experience- include pleasure, enjoyment or joy, contentment or fulfilment, and a sense of purpose or meaning, and of course love. Interestingly, a natural and very human element in our process of attaining these feeling states involves struggle, sometimes even pain. Maybe an analogy for this would be that you only experience light if you also have the dark?


Most significantly, happiness is innately personal, and while many aspects of it involves connecting with others, the state of happiness also necessitates a connection with our deeper self and with a meaning of life as we each find it inside. It means tuning in to ourselves and our emotions as well as to others.


The Dalai Lama has stated that ‘The very motion of our life is towards happiness’. In other words, we are driven in this pursuit.

If in our pursuit of happiness Brooks suggests it is wrong to view it as a feeling, I think he is also suggesting that if we make that mistake we will inevitably end up going down external rabbit holes pursing ‘pleasure’ or ‘ contentment’ or ‘enjoyment’ and so lose our connection to ourselves and to the very state we are driven in life to seek.  

To me that connection to myself starts with being fully present in my own body and asking ‘what can I appreciate right here, right now? Where in my life can I find cause to feel those feelings, however small, that will create the state of happiness?

If you’re still reading, I thank you for considering my musings, and I’ll end with a quote:


"Happiness is a made-to-measure suit. Unhappy people are people who want to wear someone else's custom-made suit.” Karl Heinz Böhm,  



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