Here are my top contenders for what happiness is.
1. Happiness is in the overlap you find when you answer the 3 questions:
* What gives life meaning?
* What gives me pleasure?
* What are my strengths?
Consider which happiness-boosting activities to take on (e.g., being more grateful, optimistic or forgiving). Then ask the 3 questions. Is being more grateful likely to give you a sense of meaning, pleasure and play off your strengths? When you set goals for yourself, big or small, ask the 3 questions before you commit.
2. Happiness is not found on the hedonic treadmill, in other words, humans habituate. This means that when you have a great experience (think first kiss), it will not continue to be great if you keep doing it over and over in precisely the same way. You will adapt and the thrill will wane. Which is why that beautiful BMW you yearned for is great for a time but the wow quickly wears thin. It's why Beethoven's Pastoral won't give you the chills if you listen to it daily. In contrast, the family trip to Italy was unique, with many memorable experiences, and brings a warm glow each time you think about it. The Pastoral continues to excite if you listen to it once a month. Go for the meaningful experience, vary activities, or leave enough time between them to counteract habituation.
3. Happiness is in your intentions. You have a set-point for happiness, your normal happiness level, determined by genetics. Your particular life circumstances (e.g., gender, age, winning the lottery) also affect happiness, but considerably less than you may think. Regardless of your genes and circumstances, happiness is greatly influenced by a third factor, your intentions for living a happy life. Strategies that increase happiness (e.g., giving more to others, savoring the good, taking better care of your body) can actually make a difference.
4. Happiness is the ultimate human currency. It is not money, fame, fortune or power. For clues to what makes you happy, consider what you have that would be worth all the money in Fort Knox. Surely not your house, your car or your wardrobe. It would probably be something more like a loved one, your freedom or your work. What would increase your happiness by 5%? Could something as simple as spending more time with a friend, spending less time at the office or helping your neighbor, increase your share of the ultimate currency?
Happiness is hard work. My recipe for happiness is to take any combination of happiness-boosting activities you can commit to, that you believe will bring you meaning and pleasure, and practice them regularly. These activities include being grateful, giving, joyful, passionate, optimistic, kind, forgiving, social and in flow. They are also coping, savoring, simplifying, pursuing goals, living in the present, taking care of your mind, spirit and body and being your best possible self. Happiness is finding the combination that works best for you.