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Health Experts Answer: What Is Happiness?

What is the definition of happiness? Mental health experts offer their take.

Medically reviewed in March 2022

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By: Hope Cristol
 
Good news for anyone striving for a sunnier outlook: There are more tips and tricks than ever to boost your mood, including these six surprising ways to get happy. (We love the idea of adults coloring!) But none of that great advice on how to be happier answers the fundamental question: What, exactly, is happiness? To help you know it when you’ve got it, we asked four health experts for their definitions.
 
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Lack of Anger, Sadness or Fear
Happiness is above all a pleasant feeling, but it’s not the same feeling every time. It can be a warm sense of contentment, or it can be over-the-top joy. But happiness can also be defined by what’s lacking in that moment: When you feel happy, you have a relative lack of anger, sadness and fright. -- Ronald Siegel, PsyD, assistant professor of psychology, part time, Harvard Medical School
 
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It's Not About Money
Many of us link happiness with wealth and status, but if those things could buy happiness, the rich and famous wouldn’t have so many problems! Still, we work long hours and push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion on a daily basis. We have overstretched our personal boundaries and forgotten that true happiness comes from living an authentic life fueled with a sense of purpose and balance. -- Kathleen Hall, founder of The Stress Institute and author, “Alter Your Life: Overbooked? Overworked? Overwhelmed?”
 
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Feeling Grateful, Giving Back
Happiness is when we feel content and grateful for our gifts and blessings, and also when we feel that we are using our gifts and blessings to help others. This may seem like a tall order, but remember it isn’t something you should expect to experience all the time. We may see only periodic glimmers of happiness -- but the optimism about experiencing it is what motivate and inspires us. -- William Stillman, award-winning author of autism and special needs parenting books
 
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Live Life Your Way
Can you approach the world and each new day with brand new eyes, be open to learning, be inquisitive and accepting of what life has to offer you? That would be one definition of happiness. Here’s another one: I have a sign on my desk that reads, “To be happy and successful is to live life in your way.” It’s just like what the ancients said: To thine own self be true. -- Judi Hollis, PhD, family therapist, weight-loss expert and author, “Fit is a Family Affair”
 

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