Word of the Week: ‘happiness’
We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘happiness’
What is the meaning of happiness?
Feeling happy? You should be. It’s World Happiness Day. And if that fact fails to cheer you up, fear not – your favourite east London content team is donning its linguistic cap to tackle the elemental, age-old question: what is the meaning of ‘happiness’?
First used in the 1520s, the word originally referred to: “good fortune and prosperity.” Perhaps it’s no surprise that back when the average lifespan made people dread their 30th birthday for a whole different reason (death), the vast majority of the UK’s population lived a life of servitude and the threat of the bubonic plague was imminent – ‘happiness’ had more to do with pure luck than anything else.
Move forward 300-odd years, and utilitarianism became the defining doctrine of ‘happiness’. British philosopher John Stuart Mill felt that all decisions should be driven towards achieving ‘happiness’ – and for as many people as possible. As he famously said: “Happiness is the sole end of human action.”
A less noble, but perhaps more realistic sense of how we experience happiness can be found in the Urban Dictionary, which has an array of insightful definitions, such as: “a moment of bliss when you have no problems whatsoever” and – our favourite – “happiness is like peeing in your pants. Everyone can see it but only you can feel the warmth.”
Can money buy you happiness?
In our fervent pursuit of it, ‘happiness’ – despite being seemingly subjective – has become quantifiable. The 2019 World Happiness Report found that Finland is the happiest nation in the world, closely followed by Norway. The UK came in at number 15, not a bad lot considering Brexodus.
It has also become commodified. We’re all familiar with the maxim that money can’t buy happiness, but the booming wellness industry suggests otherwise. Whether it’s a silent yoga retreat in Bali, a turmeric latte, or a dose of CBD oil (known for its calming properties at £40 a pop), finding your own slice of heaven on earth is just a matter of moolah, these days. As Johnny Depp quipped: “Money doesn’t buy you happiness, but it buys you a big enough yacht to sail right up to it.”
Let’s not get too cynical though, folks – not today, of all days. After all, Aristotle believed that “happiness depends upon ourselves.” So, turn off your ‘inspirational’ social feeds and focus on whatever gets you going – whether that’s meditation at dawn and spiralised courgettes, or stroking cats and eating cheese. It’s World Happiness Day, so just do more of what you like.