What is happiness?
First of all, happiness refers to what you can get from others and your environment. In other words, you're happy when your material and emotional needs are fulfilled.
Take Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Outdated or not, it gives us an idea of what people need to be happy and the importance of each of those areas in our lives - from basic biological needs like food and shelter to more elevated needs like self-development and creativity.
However, fulfilling our needs doesn't always make us happy. And in many cases, that comes in direct conflict with the happiness we seek. For example, a job that covers our basic needs for food, shelter, and security could be getting in the way of your need for creativity, flexibility, and freedom.
On top of that, we tend to think of happiness as static, as something you either have or don't. However, this isn't the case, at all. Instead, happiness is fluid and fleeting.
So, is the pursuit of happiness an illusion?
Not necessarily. Instead, to find that happiness, you need to redefine it, first.
We can redefine that happiness by making it broader -- it's not just about the nice feeling you get when your needs are met, or when you receive something pleasant from someone else. It's also about what you can give to others, and how giving gives you a purpose and a connection to your community.
To psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, giving helps you reaffirm your very humanity. It makes you forget yourself, and give yourself to the person in front of you. Luckily, you don't have to change your entire routine to switch the focus from your own thoughts and needs to someone else's.
Here are a few simple things you can do to start giving more:
When you engage in actions that transcend your own search for satisfaction, you make your life meaningful. You become part of a community. You assert your humanity. Moreover, you can be happier and more fulfilled.
Herb Sennett writes about life and how to enjoy it more.