Happy: To Be or TBD?

by Belinda Munoz on May 12, 2010


Happiness is the second of a series of five topics for Momalom’s Five for Ten.

Have you ever looked up quotes on happiness by great thinkers?  If not, I recommend you don’t.  It won’t make you happy.  It might even depress you.  I know.  I ventured that way and found myself sinking in quicksand instead of riding high on a hot-air balloon.

You don’t believe me?


Take Gandhi, one of the best examples of realized human potential often looked to for wisdom, guidance and inspiration.  But this quote?  Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. Not so much.  It sounds like a lofty version of Keep looking honey ’cause you ain’t never gonna find it. Why?  Because to have thought, speech and action coincide is ideal.  And the ideal is a rarity in the land of the real.  It disregards instincts, emotions and imperfections — three human attributes that contribute much to our growth and show no signs of getting rubbed out through our evolutionary process.  So, no.  For me, this definition is a touch too rigid; a bit of a lose-lose path in a win-some-lose-some world.

How about Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman whose name no woman would dare sully.  Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product. Really?  That’s what happiness is?  It sounds a lot like waste material, doesn’t it?  I never thought I’d be disappointed by Eleanor but, these words don’t make my heart pitter patter to say the least.  If I had to choose, I’d pick Gandhi’s definition.

Need more examples?

Albert Camus: You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of.  You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life. (Never mind.)

Aristotle:  Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. (Oh, yeah?  Let’s ask Camus.)

Albert Schweitzer:  Happiness?  That’s nothing more than health and a poor memory. (Could this saintly man have used more hugs?)

It seems these thought leaders could not crack the happiness mystery.

If you’re struggling with your own happiness, take heart.  You’re in good company.


Perhaps it would help to define what happiness is not.  We make lists of things we think it could possibly be.  One by one, we check them off as we acquire, achieve, or be these things.  And when we’re done buying, doing, or being these things, we find out what it’s not.

We fall into traps, after all, they’re strewn just about everywhere.  Disguised and dressed up.  Looking like the perfect impostor.

We hear about these traps from stories we’re told.  But, though we like to listen, stories, no matter how exciting, aren’t always enough.  We have to know for ourselves.  We have to get in and out of these traps ourselves.  One by one.

Sometimes, we don’t know we’ve fallen in one.  Sometimes, we wake up in one.



Some of us stumble upon it.

Some of us lose it.

Some of us miss it amid all the commotion.

Some of us are forever mystified by its myth.

Still, all of us seek it.  Whatever and wherever it is, we root for each other to find it.  After all, if/when one of us finds it, we glean hope that we too can have it.


What is happiness?  Words don’t seem adequate.  Often what I come up with is trite, awkward, contrived or someone else’s definition.

I could go the Dalai Lama way and differentiate between pleasure and happiness.  But, I’m not kidding anyone.  I’m no Dalai Lama and I want both pleasure and happiness.

I could mosey on down the “it’s a choice” route, after all, it sounds promising to believe that we have influence on our happiness and is a much happier thought than “it’s destiny”.  But I don’t know if it comes down to one choice, or key choices, or a lifetime of consistent choices that brings happiness.

I could fall into the oversimplified route of “either you’re happy or you ain’t”. I’m tempted because black and white is less challenging than gray.  But, alas, black and white is so boring my ADD has already kicked in — in full color.  I reject the notion that happiness is boring.

I could define it as a playground; a place where hours of play and laughter go by.  But little kids, and some parents mind you, are often found crying and getting hurt at playgrounds.  It doesn’t seem to be an appropriate metaphor.

Then what?

When it comes to happiness, my hunch tells me it’s better to be it than to deconstruct it.  I’d much rather revel and sink into it than define it.  Yeah.  I prefer to spend quality time with it when it shows up at my door.  Who knows?  Maybe then it’ll visit more often and possibly even stay a while.

Down shots with it?  Sure!  Sounds much better than pinging it daily.  Or following it around, desperate to make eye contact.  Make it my mission and forget all else?  Nah.  Stalk it in a killer dress and high heels?  Never.

I’d rather welcome its sojourn as equally as I do its friends.  You know, all those other good things that make us feel nice.  Like satisfaction, contentment, peace, sanity, comfort, etc.

And so, with a smile and wishes of happiness and light, from me to you, I close with yet another clumsy, silly and possibly nonsensical little poem:

Would rather play in the sun
than work a ton.
Bar none.
It’s way more fun
to hit a ball and run
than get stuff done, or undone.

Would rather press start
and create art
with a full heart
than play a faux part
finger on a pie chart.
That ain’t so smart.

Would rather have nothing
than big ol’ bling
to make me cling
to a meaningless thing.
Left wing, center, right wing
of thee, still, we sing.

Would rather make my child giggle,
make jello jiggle,
wriggle in and outta skinny tunnel,
and sing Hey Diddle Diddle.
Better than to remote-fiddle,
or much worse, swindle.

Does defining happiness stump you?  Do you feel that there is too much emphasis on selling and buying happiness?  Is happiness the end-all be-all of our earthly existence?  Or are other things equally important such as: satisfaction, contentment, peace, sanity, rest and relaxation, creativity, etc?


Image by lawPrieR

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Madeleine Kolb May 12, 2010 at 8:05 am

Belinda, I loved this post, starting with the title. I can’t define happiness either, but I wouldn’t discount Eleanor Roosevelt’s definition out of hand. I interpret her words to say that happiness isn’t something you can chase after. It’s something that comes out of something else, such as a difficult accomplishment, a wonderful experience, or just a perfect day with someone you love.

I think too that sometimes, happiness is the flip side of sadness. For example, when your little boy goes off to school, you may feel sad that he’s growing up so fast and yet happy that he’s ready for his next big step which will be challenging and satisfying and exciting and, probably, frustrating at times.


2 Justine May 12, 2010 at 8:21 am

Belinda – Compelling, thoughtful post. I enjoyed your commentary on the quotes you found.

These people you cited, the oft quoted folk with the big ideas, I wonder if they lived the ideals they spewed.


3 Sara May 12, 2010 at 8:53 am

Belinda — This is such a perfect post for me to read as I have long struggled with happiness. I used to think I was destined to always be the one with the “glass half empty.” I think I always expected something bad to happen if I was happy.

Then I had an epiphany about happiness. I came to realize happiness is always around, but it’s a present moment and it is what it is for the person experiencing it at that time. You have to be open to feeling and seeing happiness!

In my case, I’ve learned to watch for my own happy moments and pay attention to them when they land on me. I can feel them with joy and even awe, but I don’t expect them to stay with me. I just enjoy them in the now.

I loved how you ended this post with you poem. It made me feel happy to read your happy moments — the jiggling jello, the giggle of your child, having fun, even if work isn’t done. You are defining your own happiness:~)


4 Belinda Munoz @ The Halfway Point May 12, 2010 at 9:40 am

Hi Sara, it IS always around, I agree. And yes, it’s more of a present tense state. It comes and goes. It’s not meant to be pocketed, or bottled or hoarded. It’s delightful in its impermanence and probably best if shared.


5 terry May 12, 2010 at 9:04 am

Happiness just IS. The part that alludes me is how to be happy when bad things are happening around you.

Loved this post.

love how happiness and wisdom don’t seem to be linked.


6 C @ Kid Things May 12, 2010 at 9:39 am

Happiness is a process and a choice and everything and nothing. It’s mysterious and elusive.


7 Phil - Less Ordinary Living May 12, 2010 at 10:24 am

Belinda –

Love the poem at the end. Great post on a huge topic. For me, happiness is best thought of in simple terms, it’s not something to overanalyze. Happiness is feeling at peace with ourselves and treating life as a big exciting adventure. It’s doing the best we can, and accepting what happens. It’s goofing off, dancing in the park for no reason, calling an old friend, sitting on the bench and watching the clouds roll by. Happiness rules!



8 Lauren May 12, 2010 at 10:50 am

Happiness is…having the UPS person knock at my door 3/4 of the way through this post with a lovely birthday present from my best friend! And then I read this:
“Yeah. I prefer to spend quality time with it when it shows up at my door. Who knows? Maybe then it’ll visit more often and possibly even stay a while. …Or following it around, desperate to make eye contact.”

I LOVE your beautiful imagery, Belinda. You play with words in the most magnificent of ways – I imagine it must bring you great happiness! 🙂

A great post. It is so good to play in the gray areas – and I agree the quotes on happiness leave a very lot to be desired.

The poem – like yummy finger-licking good icing on a fantastic cake!

Thanks, Belinda, for rocking me again!


9 Belinda Munoz @ The Halfway Point May 12, 2010 at 11:52 am

Lauren, I love the serendipity of happiness knocking at your door in the form of a thougthful gift from your best friend and then reading that line in this post. The present — that seems to be where we meet happiness. No need to crack its mystery; just be.


10 becca May 12, 2010 at 11:29 am

This was great. Because you’re right… why waste time trying to define it when EVERYONE’S definition is different? It’s so subjective. Where one person finds happiness another won’t. So, we really should just enjoy the little things that make us happy and stop trying to achieve what other people define it as. I’m still working on my definition but I’ll take what I can get!

And your poems are so sweet. Especially:
Would rather play in the sun
than work a ton.
Bar none.
It’s way more fun
to hit a ball and run
than get stuff done, or undone.

Because all my stuff is always getting undone… so I should just go out in the sun!


11 Amber May 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I think that so many people confuse the “pursuit of happiness” with the pursuit of stuff. They try to find happiness in the next video game, car, home, and something else equally silly. Will they find fleeting moments of happiness? Yes. But the emptiness that accompanies that fleeting moment will be too much to bear so they will go find more things to fill it.

I think we should just take a step back and reevaluate our thinking. Happiness is not the same for everyone. Most of my happiness is rooted in my religion. For those who aren’t religious, they may find their happiness in an excellent book or something else. (I am sure I am sounding ignorant on this account because, well, I am.)

Rather than compare our happiness with another person, why not find our own happiness.

I suppose that is too much to dream for.


12 Kelly May 12, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Yes! We shouldn’t be trying to define it — which seems like caging it somehow. Instead, let’s just be ourselves and know that the happy is there.


13 michelle May 12, 2010 at 4:31 pm

true. some of the best words are hard to nail down…..and most of the definitions are inadequate.


14 Rudri May 12, 2010 at 5:28 pm


I visited all those quotes yesterday in preparing to write my post. Wondering if they found happiness in their own lives. No way to know that of course.

I like the way you say that it isn’t fun to deconstruct happiness, but to revel in it. To be immersed in it.

The poem at the end – I think that takes courage. I’ve always admired people who can write poetry. Silly or Not.

Thanks Belinda.


15 Corinne May 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm

I thought I had happiness figured out until I started reading all these posts!! 🙂
But your collection of quotes definitely had me laughing. I think we all need our own definition of happiness, it’s such a unique feeling for everyone.


16 Tony Single May 12, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Belinda, again I have nothing to add. Okay, I lie. Who am I kidding, right? 😛

Like Sara, I do agree that happiness is something that’s all around, something that one can open their eyes to. Having said that, seeing is much MUCH easier than grasping. It can be like trying to drink pure, refreshing water from a seive. Enough dampness remains to whet one’s whistle, to give a taste as it were, but the substance of it has already drained away.

Maybe we need to become the seive somehow. Let these moments of happiness happen to us rather than seek them out. Let them wash through us, and letting the substance of it pour onto those around us. And maybe, just maybe, others will do the same for us. But how do we actually go about achieving this state of glorious resignation? No idea. 😛

It’s a nice thought though. Sure beats what I’ve mostly experienced of happiness so far… something that alwats happens to other people or when your back is turned. Bleh.


17 Davina May 12, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I think we try too hard to be happy and assign it to life being a certain way. It’s like… happiness is the absence of pain and yet sometimes pain brings the most growth. And then, some people are afraid to be happy for fear they will lose it (I used to be that way). I like to believe that happiness is not having to let go of or hold on to anything. It just is, without even being named.


18 Patty - Why Not Start Now? May 12, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Beautifully written, Belinda. A joy to read. I know I’m a bit of the odd one out here, but I’ve always liked that Camus quote. Got a thing for those existentialists, I guess. But mostly it’s because he’s telling us not to go *searching* or *looking* for happiness. And those words, along with a lot of others like them – seeking, pursuing, questing, hunting, striving for, aspiring to – do get attached to happiness. Well, yeah, it’s part of our constitution. But I think the framers might have got it wrong. Happiness seems much too slippery for that. More often than not it eludes us when we try to chase it down. Because happiness just is. It’s there in every single moment, at least it potential. In fact, I think that’s what you’re saying in your post. And for me, the word happiness doesn’t even quite fit the bill. As you know, meaning is the experience that rings my bells. At the end of the day, I’d much rather ask, “Was it meaningful?” than “Was I happy?”


19 Wilma Ham May 12, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Defining happiness for me is like pulling a yummy pie apart to see what is in it instead of eating it. It is like defining if rain is good or bad.
I will never know so I rather experience life and decide on the spot. xox Wilma


20 Tisha May 12, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Hey Belinda,
I love how you question things – always poised on the edge of each choice, exploring all sides in depth, almost willing the deeper meaning to show itself to you. As far as happiness goes, I agree that it’s best not to analyze it too much, just bathe in its glory for as long as you can whenever it shows up!
And your poem is lovely 🙂


21 BK May 13, 2010 at 4:13 am

Belinda, what a fun poem to read. It sort of defines what happiness is not and yet it also defines what happiness is. Happiness is subjective and different people ‘define’ it differently. There is no one way which everyone can agree on. Very often when one looks for happiness, chances are the person will be disappointed. Do not seek without what one can find within. Happiness can be found within oneself and is not dependent on others and situations. Just take a look around us: even the a poor person on the street can be happiness comparing to some rich persons. Thus we knew that happiness is not about how much money we have.

Shouldn’t happiness be about what make us tick, whether it is the people we loved or the things we enjoy doing, what are the priorities in one’s life, the purpose of one’s life? I believe that when we are able to sort all these out, then happiness comes naturally. And perhaps that was what Gandhi meant, that everything starts from self. Gandhi’s definition may be too rigid and too ideal, yet when we move along that line and find a balance, happiness is achievable.


22 Jen May 13, 2010 at 9:58 am

There is so much HERE. The quotes (they are a bit depressing), your sweet poem, and the fact that it’s better to BE happy then to deconstruct it. Yes. To recognize when we are happy rather than trying to attain something that we think will make us happy. That is powerful. So great to read your words!


23 Eva @ EvaEvolving May 13, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Ah, you’ve captured my thoughts and sentiments so well here, Belinda! I too have laughed as I read “famous” quotes about happiness that offer completely opposite views on the matter.

I agree with so much of what you say. Especially this: “When it comes to happiness, my hunch tells me it’s better to be it than to deconstruct it.” Yes! I can’t define happiness, but I know it when I see it!


24 Shawna May 13, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I’d rather revel in it too. Definitions are just too rigid 🙂 Love this post and have great admiration for the poet in you!


25 Jenny May 15, 2010 at 8:24 am

Hello all!
I would suggest reading the book Happy For No Reason by Marci Shimoff. I found this book made a real difference in my life.
As BK said, I think that happiness comes from within. It is something we can cultivate, but not chase. It can be separate from circumstance. You can be happy in the moment without anything in particular to “make” you happy.
Great post as always! Lots to think about.


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