Happiness redefined?


‘In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.’

This statement has been floating around in social media (generally uncredited which seems to, often, be the way of social media) for a while now. Tracking this back to May 17, 2015 the source appears to be Caroline Caldwell posting on her Twitter account @DIRT_WORSHIP. I really enjoy this statement because although I believe in and am a great advocate for the growth and development of self and potential, I also take umbrage at the commoditisation of wellbeing. There are more deceptive ways in which this statement can be interpreted in relation to the beauty industry etc. so to define my terms I am currently discussing wellbeing.

Wellbeing has been a hot philosophical topic since way back when. I was recently amused at an example of ‘dumbing’ down or bite sized formatting that condensed the entire, multiple generation discussion and argument of the ancient Greek philosophers into the following definition of happiness:

‘The joy that we feel striving for our potential.’ – accredited courtesy of ‘the ancient Greeks’

This is a great statement but no singular ancient Greek said this (please correct me if I am wrong) and the claim that the multitude of them agreed on this definition is frankly ridiculous. Oprah doesn’t seem to mind and hey I think the positive psychologist, Shawn Achor, who uses this definition is an intelligent, articulate, well-meaning psychologist and author. He is committed to the happiness machine both because I think he really is genuinely passionate about it and because he is making a living from it (that has to be a recipe for success and happiness getting paid to do something you love).

I think what Shawn is getting at is actually redefining the culture of the word ‘happiness’. By subtly introducing the outstanding paraphrasing of the above singular defining statement, Shawn is encouraging a reverting to the ancient concept of ‘happiness’ which is, ironically in this context, much broader and has a deeper more engaged meaning than our current Western ideas of happiness. The Ancient Greeks did not use the work happiness per se, the word they used was eudaimonia which is commonly defined as meaning happiness but actually means something much more complex: ‘The state of having a good indwelling spirit, a good genius.’ I think this is perhaps understood by the contemporary mind as the application of mindfulness and ability to manage the multiple facets of self to create longstanding wellbeing. In order to keep my post brief, I won’t delve into the Greek philosophical discussions of virtue and pleasure etc.

Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author, steers away from using the term ‘mindfulness’ instead he uses the terms focus and attention. He mainly does this as he sees mindfulness, as I see happiness, as a bit of a machine that has become a commodity to the masses. Neither of these terms are in themselves inherently bad, they are both excellent concepts, but they are not things that can be bought or sold. They are things that are innately within us that we can cultivate, or not, and the tools to do so should be taught alongside academics in school. They are the things that can increase the potential of every human being and have great influence on culture. Given that being happy all the time is an unobtainable and unrealistic goal much impinged by confusion of happiness with short term pleasure, I say bring on a redefinition of happiness to create something more long term, globally beneficial and sustaining.

cliched wellness image cheekily stolen from a creative wellbeing company on the net.


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