Why happiness is elusive

Because happiness is hard to define. But let us take a minute to look at some definitions.

When I define a tree, I can associate certain characteristics with it, such as
– having a woody structure
– typically having a single trunk
– growing to a considerable height
– bearing lateral branches
– having leaves, at least during some seasons
– having a lifespan of several years

When I go to a new place and find something that looks like a tree, I can run through this checklist and confirm if it is actually a tree.

But some other things that we take for granted elude definition. Such as the colour blue. When I look up the definition, I get:

Blue (adj) – of a colour intermediate between green and violet, as of the sky or sea on a sunny day.”

I am only able to define blue by pointing to whatever is blue, or as a combination of two other colours. I can confirm if a jacket is blue if it looks like the sea or the sky. It is much harder to write down an definition for blue that points towards its innate properties. Moreover, what I perceive as blue is entirely subjective, and can be a different shade from what another person, perhaps one who is colour blind, sees.

Now onto happiness and its dictionary definition:

Happiness (n) – “the state of being happy”, where happy is defined as “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” This is followed by several synonyms such as “contented, content, cheerful, cheery, merry, joyful, jovial, jolly, joking, jocular, gleeful, carefree, untroubled, delighted, smiling..” all of which we can associate with happiness, but cannot substitute it with. Defining happiness is more like defining the colour blue than a tree. We can only define it by pointing to whatever makes us happy, or the palette of emotions we feel when we feel happy. It is only experienced in our subjective reality.

Every human being pursues happiness – something we are unable to define. Each one of us points to different sources of happiness, a feeling that is subjective. Is there any wonder, then, that we are all so confused about how to be happy?

Source: Stumbling on Happiness – Dan Gilbert

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