Written by: Jenn Drakes
“It might seem crazy what I’m about to say”, is the opening line of the Happy song written, produced and sung by Pharrell Williams. That song was released in 2013 as the song track for the movie Despicable Me 2, then went on to become Billboards number one single of 2014. Everywhere you went in 2014 that song could be heard. Pharrell obviously did a great job in producing it because it had a rather catchy beat. It won a Grammy for best video, and is deemed the most successful song of 2014.
The chorus line of Pharrell’s song was “Because I’m happy” and asked those listening to clap along based on four things – feeling like a room without a roof, feeling like happiness is the truth, knowing what happiness is to you, and feeling like that is what you want to do. When you look at all the lyrics of this song isolated from its catchy rhythms, I honestly can’t say they make sense. Yet more than 13 million worldwide purchased the song, plus over 600 million people viewed the music video.
Did they clap and dance along because they understood the lyrics, the concepts, or the rhythms simply gave them a happy moment? Did anyone really notice that the song title is happy but the clapping is for happiness. That shift, as subtle as it was,
is significant. But first let’s explore the words.
When we look up the definition of “happy”, it was interesting to find that there are several different meanings. According to the Cambridge dictionary, Happy can be a feeling, showing, or causing pleasure or satisfaction. It can also be a polite way to express a willingness to do something – “I am happy to drop you off at your appointment”, and it is used in greetings for special occasions, or expressing good wishes. Further examples include Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary, etc. Interestingly, it can also be used as an adjective to denote lucky circumstances – “It was a happy coincidence we met in Hyde Park”. The same Cambridge dictionary, has only one definition for happiness, it is the “feeling of being happy”. Am I the only one laughing at this, right now? Is it any wonder that our approach to happy gets mixed up with us saying we want to be happy, when what we really want is happiness? What everyone really wants is to perpetuate the pleasure or the feeling of satisfaction indefinitely.
But is that a realistic expectation? I think it is if you are pursuing and achieving happiness. Not so much if you are pursuing happy. You see I consider happy to be a state of being that is emotionally driven. Listening to music, soothes or energizes me in a way that makes me happy. Yet if I were to listen to music 24/7, the normal happy emotions would change to unhappy. I would eventually get sick of its constant churn in my ears. Happy states are not meant to be indefinitely sustained. Another example is I could be satisfied and contented, then get news that saddens me enough to bring me into a discontented state. Any happy mood would suddenly become unhappy. And becoming unhappy at the sad news of say a death does not mean I do not have happiness in my life, it simply means my happy state has been temporarily disrupted, but even in that sad time of mourning I can still derive happiness in my memories, and affection to the person, and in my current living circumstances. Notice memories can provide happiness. Why -because memories stay with a person. They are lasting. Unravelling happy and happiness is complex, because people have lumped them together, yet they are indeed different.
While we see in movies people going on quests for the holy grail, in reality, our quest in life seems more related to being happy. Some settle for small bursts of happy delight, while others pursue something more lasting. That lasting something is happiness. Anyone who equates happiness to accumulating things that include money will be setting themselves up for disappointment. We know that wealth and material abundance does not deliver happiness. It can put us into a happy state, but we know that does not last. When lotteries are won, we see the happy state at play, but we don’t always see the happiness in winning large sums of money. Often times, media plays up those that eventually lost most or all the money won, and in those times the happy state of the win is definitely gone, and some say they are happier with that outcome, while others not so much. What media rarely show are those that may have managed to derive happiness out of the lucky draw of a lottery. I trust that there are some who have done it, because I consider it possible to achieve.
While we tend to exchange happy and happiness synonymously, much like Pharrell did in his song, they are different. I wonder if in writing the song, and making that shift from its title of happy to clapping for happiness, whether Pharrell realized the difference. Some say happy is a subset or subcomponent of happiness. A different perspective that may have some truth to it. In the podcast episode The Masks We Wear, I told the story of asking two friends if they were happy (and I used the ‘happy’ word), only to get the answer back that they weren’t. Their responses surprised me, and of course we discussed the whys behind them not being happy. But I know the discussion would go very differently if I had it today. You see I have matured and have had more lived experiences, and so I have changed my perspective quite a bit on these aspects of living life.
There is a difference between happy and happiness that dictionaries fail to truly capture. A person should not embark on a quest for happy because it doesn’t add meaning or substance or worth to one’s life. Happy is something we encounter in small frequent or infrequent bursts along the journey of living, and experiencing that state each and every day is a good thing. I encourage laughing at least once a day, because doing that is having happy moments, and we all need that, don’t we? Refer to the episode “The Greatest Youth Tonic” to learn what other benefits can come from laughing often. But the happy state is temporary, much like a high moment I suppose. Eventually, the situation that caused the happy state ends, then what? You are unhappy? Not necessarily. For some, yes. Absolutely that is possible for some. Yet there are some that do not revert to unhappy after having happy moments. They look forward to a future moment and continue with their lives… The why of that could be many things, and this is a great segue into dissecting happiness.
Happiness is pursuing purpose and something more substantial and sustainable. It is pursuing a life worth living. It is having something exciting to wake up to, something amazing to leave the house for, or to take on in a committed way. So, when you hear podcasters like myself and motivational speakers push you towards gratitude, towards serving others, building positive and lasting relationships with friends, family and partners, advancing your learning, practicing self-care, and embracing new experiences; what we are actually doing is guiding you towards achieving a fulfilling life, and achieving happiness.
So, what is true happiness for you? Stop a moment and think about that. I did not ask you, and deliberately I did not, what would make you happy. That is the wrong question we have been asking ourselves, and each other for far too many years. The right questions are the one I just asked – what is true happiness for you, another is what does your happiness look like, for you? And yet another is in what ways does your happiness manifest itself? Pretty interesting – huh?
Another way to look at the happy versus happiness distinction is that happy are timebox moments that usually end up in our treasured memory trunks. Happiness is pursuing things that give our life meaning and purpose; and delivers fulfillment at a deeper level of who we are and what we stand for.
So, if you are trying to figure out who you are and what you need to feel fulfilled, try asking and answering the correct happiness questions. They refocus your mind in a slightly different way to explore deeper aspects of yourself. I have found that some people struggling to figure their purpose out, find it easier to respond to what they consider as true happiness, then work back from there. However, you decide to approach things, the importance is to ensure to what degree you have achieved your happiness. Far too often, people are saying they are happy when in fact they are having many happy moments, with little forward movement towards happiness.
Consider this article your chance to jumpstart your happiness pursuits. And since I never assume everyone is in the same sandbox, for those that are on their way to or have achieved true happiness, a big whopping Ooh-la-la to you all!!! Yet for the vast majority, take the time needed to figure it out.
The other important thing to realize is that no one is responsible for your happiness but you. And that especially goes for those in partnering situations. Far too often, people look to others to make them happy. Sorry, but life does not work that way. Each of us are responsible for our own happiness. You are responsible for your own happiness. Each partner delivers happy moments to the other, and supports each other’s pursuit of their happiness. That is what sustains the partners’ returning home with vigor and delight, and sharing themselves-mind, body, soul with each other. This one distinction could be the life blood of many partnering situations. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but perhaps there are some who had an “Aha” moment or are nodding their head as they read this to acknowledge they can relate to what I am saying.
As someone who had to live someone else’s unhappiness, I know firsthand what unhappiness can do to an individual and those around them. I also know about facing a person and saying “I am not responsible for your happiness.” An all-around painful truth, but an uplifting and freeing one as well. For all involved.
If you are in an unhappy relationship right now. Stop and consider if you are the issue because you are not feeling fulfilled, and happy moments come and go, and when they go a void remains. Living with a void is indeed a problem, but what is the source of the void? And is your partner to blame for your void? Are you to blame for your partner’s void? In my view – Absolutely not! More so, if you figure the void out, and fill it with something meaningful for you, you will have a different perspective in looking at the partnering aspect of your life to consider is that right for you? Is the fit of a partner correct? Again, another interesting line of questioning.
Now, “partnering” was used to show how we sometimes have the wrong approach or choose the wrong questions or apply the wrong viewpoint to living situations. What I outlined for partners or spouses, can easily apply to work and other situations in our lives.
For some reason we came into this world, and in doing so, I believe we were all given gifts to use to make an impact on the world. That gift along with the ability to choose our paths is, I believe, the blessings we hear so much about in our religious teachings. You have the choice to use your gifts or not. You have the choice to figure out your gift(s) if you are not sure what they may be. You have the choice to choose you through self-care that includes discovery, development and affirmation. No matter how you slice things, it will always come back to you and your choice to be authentically you when living your life. And there is no argument that pursuing happiness is how that life should be lived. So, what are you going to do? What is your next step? What choices will you make? What actions will you take?
About The Author: Jenn Drakes is passionate about life, and fully living it. Her podcast Arrays of Living is about encouraging listeners to get unstuck, learn from the past, but move beyond it, grow personally, and live their best life.