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2 Big Questions to Ask on the Pursuit of Happiness

The folks at Gallup have spent nearly 20 years building a database of information about, as they put it, “how humanity feels – about the day, their job and their life.” It’s a worthwhile endeavor and their research always produces interesting results such as those found in their recently released World Happiness Report.

This year’s report, produced by a partnership between Gallup, Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Center, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the WHR Editorial Board, adds a new layer to their happiness data: country rankings by age groups. So it not only provides insights into the current state of global happiness but trends that might impact the future.

“While the rankings get the headlines,” Gallup said in a release about the report, “the trends reinforce why it is important to keep asking people how they feel, and to keep digging deeper.”

Unfortunately, the results of this research seldom paint a pretty picture, and this year’s report is no different. People around the world aren’t particularly happy. You can review the report yourself, but what’s more relevant to me are two questions we all can ask ourselves that might lead us toward a better view of happiness.

  1. How do I define happiness?

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of happiness is “a: a state of well-being and contentment: joy” and “b: a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” There’s one word in that two-part definition that draws my attention: Joy.

Personally, I think we can draw a distinction between happiness and joy.

Happiness is circumstantial – it’s based largely on whether an “experience” is “pleasurable or satisfying.” If you miss the nail with a hammer and hit your thumb, you won’t be happy. If your doctor gives you a bad diagnosis, you won’t be happy. And you shouldn’t be.

Joy is an internal emotion, or as Merriam-Webster’s third definition calls it, “a source or cause of delight.” This might be circumstantial, but it doesn’t have to be. It all depends on how we answer the second question.

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  1. Where do I look for my joy?

This is a much more philosophical question because it forces us to look inward and, in some cases, to then look outward in search of the “source of cause of delight.”

If our source of joy is in things we can’t trust, then our joy will be just as fleeting as happiness. But what can we really trust?

For me, it begins by acknowledging the truth in what the priest told Rudy in the movie: “There is a God, and I’m not him.” That means I can’t find real joy in myself (too many flaws) or in the things of this world (they constantly change) if joy is not connected to a higher power. I think this is why, for me at least, continually adding more and more amazing technological and materialistic stuff doesn’t automatically result in more joy.

As importantly, it means when circumstances result in things that don’t make me happy, I don’t have to give up my joy. Bad news can leave me unhappy, but I don’t have to allow it to steal my joy (although sometimes, in practice, I do).

Not everyone shares my worldview, of course, and that’s fine. Regardless, my advice is to find a source of joy that’s connected to whatever it is you can really trust. Then it can better survive the shifting circumstances that inevitably come with life.


  1. J D Salazar

    Joy and happiness are very different things. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is not. Joy comes from your soul, from your belief system. No matter the circumstances, no matter the successes or the failures, joy is always with you. My job comes from my Christian beliefs. God is always with me and Jesus is my salvation.

    Reply to J D Salazar

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