It all started with a Twitter discussion. A few of us were batting around thoughts on how to define the elusive concept of happiness. What happiness means to one person could be completely different from another. Perhaps it is too subjective to be directly observed, measured, agreed upon….or pursued. After all, how do you pursue something you can’t even define?
I recently read the Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, a book on the findings from the longest study on longevity and well-being ever performed. The investigators followed over 200 men from their freshman years in college to their deaths. The author, Dr. George Vaillant, sheds light on the findings via stories of the study participants. Without spoiling the book, the theme throughout was that fulfillment (or lack thereof) at one point in life is not necessarily one’s destiny. We ebb, flow, and evolve. We are all works in progress. Contentment is possible regardless of the road traveled thus far; it can be created, reinvented, or destroyed. Vaillant notes that we can tip our odds towards a contented life by accepting love that is offered to us, coping with stress in healthy and productive ways, recouping losses from bad relationships by building new and better ones, and seizing our passions. These were the characteristics of the men who thrived both emotionally and physically.
While reading the book, I decided to put the question “what is happiness?” to YOU. Your answers are illustrated in the word cloud below. The parallels between the book and the word cloud are striking. As we each wrestle our way through life’s journey, maybe we really do have a sense of what happiness looks like, even if from time to time the true meaning manages to elude us.
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