Psychology of Happiness

Yellow Plush Toy

A lot has been written about happiness and from psychology to philosophy, distinct theories of happiness have focused on issues of satisfaction, contentment, and even religious liberation. But happiness is among the very subjective mental states and several factors may be at play when a man is truly happy. Whereas anger or anxiety could be characterized with bodily responses and certain behavioural patterns, this isn’t so for happiness and that’s the way happiness is extremely subjective. For example one bar of chocolate could make one child happy whereas another kid would want two chocolate bars to feel truly content.

So why do we feel happy? Happiness is usually associated with some kind of profit or attainment. When we achieve or attain something, we feel fulfilled and this causes happiness. The attainment does not need to be substance, it could very well be religious. It could even be physical and bodily, as an insomniac individual would feel happy after a great night’s sleep. So, in defining joy we must locate a particular material, spiritual or physical gain or attainment and the contentment arising because of this attainment. The question would arise whether it’s possible to be happy without any attainment. I would say it is not possible to happy without attaining something and this attainment doesn’t have to be immediate and may be related any past achievement. Now, you could say that you do know someone who is always happy without any particular reason. It’s that you haven’t found out the reason for his happiness. He may be a very simple guy with simple needs and happy after a warm bath or a wonderful meal, so that’s still some attainment.

Psychologists have used several versions including bio degradable and PERMA models to explain pleasure suggesting that happiness is attained when our biological, psychological and sociological needs are met or when there’s pleasure (bodily for instance), engagement (in some activity for instance), relationships, meaning (for example purpose of life) and accomplishments. These models indicate that happiness involves something deeper than just our fleeting pleasures. I would differ and suggest that happiness being extremely subjective, some people could just be happy attaining pleasures whereas some others would seek meaning or possibly accomplishments and relationships. So the level or type of success which makes one happy would change from one person to another.

Thus some people would be happy when their basic needs are fulfilled whereas others wouldn’t be happy even after significant professional accomplishments as they may be expecting some other level or kind of accomplishment. Since happiness is so subjective it cannot be strictly placed within models or frameworks although the underlying common factor which makes people happy is always some kind of attainment, gain or need fulfilment.

The next level of analysis would be whether happiness could be categorized to generalized happiness or a continued happy state of mind and specific happiness for attaining one of the specific pleasures or goals. I’d suggest that there cannot be a generalized state of happiness without a particular reason. A seemingly happy person might not be genuinely happy or may be genuinely happy as he might have achieved an exalted spiritual state or accumulated substantial wealth. So again as we see a continuing state of happiness could also be explained with attainment.

The attainment could be social when we form relationships and feel joyful or simply speak to strangers at a large event or remain engaged in social action, or the attainment could be religious when we hunt and even find some kind of spiritual liberation. The attainment or desire fulfilment could be emotional when our love needs are fulfilled or once we reach our goals or fulfil our ambitions. The biological, emotional, social and religious aspects of attainment could provide happiness according to their requirements. Thus happiness is intricately tied to our precise needs although these demands could be interrelated as for example the demand for status or power could be both psychological and social.

Thus we distinguish the factors that could lead to happiness

1. Biological (bodily delights, basic needs)

2. Social (status, relationships, social action and engagement)



There might be several reactions to happiness, which might vary from smiling to participating in rigorous physical activity as joy could mean a sudden surge in energy levels. Individuals who engage in physical activity are more likely to be happy due to improved blood circulation and overall good health. However happiness being a very subjective emotional state, in order to feel genuinely happy, some achievement concerning long term goals such as love or conjugal life, wealth, spiritual liberation, or professional achievement could help a person to attain a continued happy frame of mind. This is the prolonged state of happiness that has causes like some transient state of happiness although the consequences could be long lasting. A child may show a prolonged state of happiness when sufficient care and love are provided by their parents or carers.

From a more psychoanalytic point of view, happiness would be linked to desire, libido, our energy levels as well as the defense mechanisms that we unconsciously use to vent our frustration out and so stay happy or calm. Happiness would obviously raise our libidinal levels and make us more energetic and high levels of energy can then make us happy, so this process is cyclical.

Considering defense mechanisms, psychoanalysis can in a way indicate that happiness is actually acting out or response formation once we show certain reactions that could be totally opposite to what we feel. For example in response formation we may show happiness, when in reality we are sad or depressed. Although genuine happiness could be explained with psychoanalysis as well, as for instance, an artist is really happy when he could sublimate his desires to socially acceptable forms of expression through his imagination. A sportsman is really happy when he can channel his sexual or aggressive desires through game or rigorous activity. So these defense mechanisms in psychoanalysis could actually create genuine happiness in people due to the inherent survival and coping strategies involved in those defenses.

In the end, happiness being a state of mind would be completely subjective and would evoke extreme subjective reactions. For instance, someone laughs on hearing a joke and feel happy about it and somebody else could be sarcastic or may not feel the same level of excitement. As I have stated on the psychology of emotions, it would be necessary to determine the elements of feeling and bodily reaction for each emotion including psychology and happiness has an extensive research project to consider for the future.