Perhaps not much is known about happiness. Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, has only a brief article on it. Actually it’s almost exactly as long as the wiki article on gecko lizards (don’t ask). So apparently we know just about as much about happiness as we do geckos–(and yet we chase happiness so much more than geckos, no?)
Here’s the three types I’ve found:
First there’s plain old pleasure or “hedonia” (where they get “hedonism”). If you had only a brief snapshot of this kind of pleasure, you’d be tempted to think it’s the best kind of happiness. However, if you ask people with addictions, they will tell you that their intense highs aren’t worth the consequences. These little glimpses of heaven bring incredible suffering. Looking through a window into heaven means that you must be in hell. They’d do anything to get rid of the desire for that pleasure and the chaos that follows it. In their bliss, they are not well. Pleasure is the spice of life, but can’t be the whole meal.
So then another definition is well-being, the idea that you feel good in a contented and enduring way. That’s a little more level headed— the long term in mind. You’re at peace and satisfied by the way things are. More like a warm blanket and a good chair…less like a shot of vodka.
Most researchers have abandoned the term happiness in favor of “subjective well-being” . SWB is a bigger, fatter happiness that includes how I feel now, how I feel about the past, future and current situations, how much I want to change things, etc. It’s also measured across the life domains: work, relationship, family, leisure, etc. You’ve got to be pretty thorough to get this one right.
Aristotle (and some modern researchers) suggest a third: Eudamonia. It rhymes with “You da mon, Ya” And it sort of means that, too (have I created a new poetic form here by creating definition that rhymes with the word it defines?)
Eudamonia is the idea of a person is on target for becoming their best self, that they’re growing and everything they experience just adds to that maturity. living well and with virtue. However the idea of virtue for the greeks had a meaning greater than just right living. It carried the concept of living out your best true purpose.
So it is important to bear in mind that the sense of ‘virtue’ operative in ancient ethics is not exclusively moral and includes more than states such as wisdom, courage and compassion. The sense of virtue [of which you could say] “speed is virtue in a horse”, or “height is a virtue in a basketball player”.
With eudamonia, the story of our life is we’re living up to all we know is best about virtue and to all our potential given our unique talents. Such a life may have periods of ecstasy and suffering, but these all contribute to the sense of joy and peace that comes from the meaningfulness of the story. An internal sense of “You Da Man, Ya”.
But, then again, happiness is subjective. So happiness could just be an ice-cream cone on a hot day.
Or a gecko.