Happiness Might Not Be Found in the Dictionary

by Hannah R., Concordia Applied Journalism


An average adult smiles at least 20 times a day. This action may represent the appearance of happiness – but maybe not completely. As the state of being happy originates in our soul, it might be so limitless as to defy the confines of time and space. Every day we may think we see people being happy -- whether it’s our peers joking with one another, a smile in the hallway as a friend passes, or a celebration for a success in life – but do these occurrences accurately represent happiness? I soon realized that there are many ways to define happiness depending on the individual. I asked members of Concordia’s high school to help me understand their definition of happiness.


Several spontaneous interviews with people from our community helped reveal the unrehearsed response to the question “what is happiness?” Most respondents realized that this “simple” question wasn’t so simple. Many of the interviewees sat for several moments pondering their answers. Some even said, “wait, let me think.” Happiness is thought by some to be our general default state.  Happiness is one of the first discernable emotions we have as human beings, yet we struggle to have a universal definition of happiness. Instead, we each have our own unique definition of happiness.



A religion teacher at Concordia states, “happiness is dependent on the external things in life that make you not mad or angry but make you excited about life.” He clarifies, “there is a difference between happiness and joy. Joy is something based on internal things and internal satisfaction. Where happiness is based on external things.” Rather than the state of happiness existing internally, this teacher believes happiness is expressed around us and we are individually surrounded by happiness.


An 11th grade boy explains that he thinks happiness is “doing something that I love, like hobbies such as sports. If it brings joy to my life, then it is happiness.” For this boy, happiness is more physical. Happiness is an emotion that corresponds to external actions or objects like sports.


People sometimes have difficulties describing feelings, though. For example, when I asked a 12th grade girl, “what is happiness?” she repeated the question multiple times, hesitating to offer a response. It was clear that she perceived happiness as a feeling that defies immediate description. After a few moments she said, “this is hard, it is such a loaded question.” She was right. The question “what is happiness?” is loaded with meaning complexity. In the end, her answer aligned with the idea of external activities prompting an internal feeling. “Happiness is when you feel good about whatever you are doing,” she said. “It’s a feeling that you really like.”


To find out more about happiness I asked an English teacher at Concordia about her perception of happiness inside Concordia. She said that, “it looks like different things for different people, but I think it’s shown through excitement over a recent grade, pumped about your previous Tribes trip, it looks like joyous celebrations that happens here that are academic in nature or extracurricular. Happiness at Concordia comes from great relationships, laughter, and our community”. This teacher’s perspective suggests that happiness doesn’t look like one thing. It can be internal or external. You can see it sometimes and other times you can’t.


I guess sometimes there isn’t a universal definition for some words. The dictionary offers only a rough approximation. The only way we know the true meaning behind the words is through our own experiences. While strict definitions are challenging, perhaps it is easier to identify the impact that the feeling has made on our individual lives. I wrote this article to help challenge the reader to create their own definition for happiness. I hope that you are inspired to live by your definition and help to increase the average number of smiles that you see in your world every day.




Hannah R. is a writer who enjoys merging her interest in storytelling with her passion for sport.