Does 'Having It All' Equal Happiness?
Although happiness is a universally shared ideal, achieving it is a different journey for each of us. So how do we measure it?
Happiness is a subjective concept. As humans we strive for it, most of us without any concrete idea on how to achieve it. We may have assumptions of what will make us happy, but it isn’t always guaranteed. A common perception is that once everything in our life is going well and we are finally in possession of everything we were hoping for, we’ll be happy.
University of Canberra Assistant Professor of Psychology Vivienne Lewis says: “Happiness, as defined by psychologists, is a state of mind and a feeling of wellbeing where a person experiences positive emotions such as feeling in a pleasant state, being content with one’s life, and feeling joyful.”
People often associate being content with one’s life as ‘having it all’. Depending on your personal beliefs, ‘having it all’ could range from having health and love, to securing a home, a good job, money, possessions … As Dr Lewis says, “A person’s feeling of wellbeing is a personal perception, so what makes one person happy may not be meaningful to another”.
So what does ‘having it all’ mean to different people? And does it equate to happiness? We took the question to the UC Community to find out.
The United Nations’ World Happiness Report ranks 155 countries by their happiness levels and this year, Denmark ranked number one. Since the report’s inception in 2012, happiness is increasingly being considered as a measure for social progress worldwide.
However, Bhutan has considered happiness to be serious business since the 1970s, when the fourth King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product”.
Alumna Dorji Dem, who graduated with a University of Canberra Master of Professional Accounting and now lives in Bhutan, discussed whether the country’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index –
which has influenced Bhutan’s economic and social policy – has shaped her personal views about happiness.
“Let me start with what happiness means to me. It means spending time with my loved ones, doing the things I love to do while enjoying our favourite dish. It also means good health and living standards for my loved ones – and me, of course – and this includes being socially and financially stable. In a nutshell, happiness is to be sound asleep at the end of the day without any worries,” Dorji says.
As a country, Bhutan measures happiness based on four pillars; good governance, sustainable economic development, preservation of environment, and promotion and preservation of culture. The four pillars are further broken down into nine domains which are regarded as components of happiness in Bhutan. These are psychological wellbeing, health, time-use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, living standard and education.
According to the Centre for Bhutan Studies, the GNH Index is generated to reflect the happiness and general wellbeing of the Bhutanese population more accurately and profoundly than a monetary measure.
“GNH is based on the same principles as Buddhism. In Buddhism, happiness encompasses the emotional, spiritual, cultural and economic wellbeing of a person. It teaches us that happiness cannot exist while others suffer, and by living in harmony,” Dorji says.
“Being born in a traditional Bhutanese farming family, Buddhism played a huge role in how we lived our lives, so unintentionally my view on happiness is influenced by GNH.”
When asked whether ‘having it all’ equals happiness, Dorji casts her mind back to childhood.
“To me, as a kid ‘having it all’ meant living the life I dreamt and fantasied of. However, as I matured, I started to realise that ‘having it all’ meant living a good and healthy life, stable job and supportive family and friends. It meant being able to enjoy simple things like getting to spend time with your loved ones, eating the meal you crave for and doing the things you love doing,” Dorji says.
Having it all does equal happiness, but in today’s busy and materialistic world, it is hard to have it all. You never ‘have it all’.
It’s easy to assume that for a competitive sportsperson, winning is synonymous to ‘having it all’ and happiness. For Ben Alexander, successful Australian Rugby Union Brumbies player and Bachelor of Sports Media graduate, it’s much more than that.
“Happiness is a balance of purpose and people in your life – family, friends, all of those people who are helping you achieve your goal,” Ben says.
“In team sport, you work together for a purpose and a goal. Obviously, in a football team, that goal each year is to win the premiership title.”
With Ben sourcing happiness from purpose and people, it’s easy to understand why he is so successful, having been described as the most experienced prop in Australian rugby history.
As with all athletes, their retirement from sport comes at a relatively young age compared to other professions. When one of the keys to your happiness comes to an end, what then?
As long as I'm working towards a purpose every day, I will be happy
“One of my colleagues, Josh Mann Rae, is 36 and still has a few years of playing left in him. He is my motivation and inspires me to keep playing.
“I'm still considering what that new purpose will be after football, but the hardest thing to replace and what I will miss the most will be getting to see my mates every day.”
Being a successful sportsperson, Ben has an appreciation for mental and physical health and wellbeing.
“Away from football, focusing on good mental health is important. Practising mindfulness, being grateful for what you’ve got and working hard toward your goal all relates to happiness.”
“For me, having it all is having a healthy family, healthy friends and my own good health. I feel the most grateful for this,” Ben says.
Brendan Maher has dedicated his career to raising awareness to the signs of poor mental health. After graduating from UC with a Bachelor of Communication, his career has focused on suicide
prevention with leadership roles at non-profit organisations Lifeline and now as CEO of R U OK?
For him to have it all is “very aspirational”.
“I don't know if we ever 'have it all', that's what keeps us moving forward,” he says.
“Does having it all equal happiness? It depends on what is important to you. Some people have nothing in the material sense, but are the happiest around because they have everything in the emotional sense.
“We often judge people on what they have – material possessions, their friends and so on. But they could be the loneliest person on Earth. There is no right or wrong where we draw our happiness from" says Brendan.
“To me, happiness is about being connected and having a good social scaffolding around me. I've found that one of the major contributing factors to people in crisis or emotional distress is isolation, so being connected with friends and family and people you can rely on are all contributing factors to the Happiness Index. It's a nice feeling to be missed. And in my experience, contributes to feeling fulfilled.
“We can't always be happy. We will always have low points; it's the low points that make us value the high points. Stress and unhappiness are important and contribute to happiness.”
Sleiman Abou-Hamdan is a registered clinical psychologist, a Master of Clinical Psychology alumnus and the director of Holistic Psychology. At 13, Sleiman migrated to Australia from Lebanon to escape the Lebanese Civil War.
In his journey to find purpose, he became a chef, personal trainer, Commissioned Officer in the Australian Army Reserves, a pilot, and a senior public servant before finding his purpose through helping people realise their true potential through psychology.
He explains the two main ‘types’ of happiness and acknowledges that humans rarely are in a permanent state of happiness but there are steps we can take to improve our sense of wellbeing.
Happiness is a state of emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.
"It comes mainly in two types: hedonic and eudaimonic. A hedonic state is what you feel when you eat chocolate or get a relaxing massage – both are transitory states of pleasure. An eudaimonic state on the other hand is related to your self-realisation, wellbeing, fulfilment and engagement (you don’t need to be a millionaire for this one),” Sleiman says.
“How can you be happier? You can promote happiness in many ways: by being grateful for relationships, abilities and things; by being mindful and present in the here and now; by doing things in service of others; by being immersed in an activity you enjoy; by connecting socially, and most importantly I think, by being authentic.”
For Emily Jacobs, who just graduated with a Master of Clinical Psychology at the University of Canberra,
“happiness is expressing gratitude for living and breathing, having meaningful interpersonal connections, experiencing a positive sense of self-worth, taking opportunities, feeling proud for reaching any goal, small or large, and helping others reach theirs.”
“Each day brings a new experience of happiness for me, be it overcoming a challenge, finding the strength to keep moving forward, and looking back and feeling truly fulfilled. Happiness manifests in self-love and love for others, gratitude, ambition and motivation."
Taking time to reflect on what I am grateful for brings more happiness into each day.
According to our UC community, finding happiness might not be a complex process after all. As it turns out, there are some common elements to feeling like you ‘have it all’ and none of them include a big house or a fancy car.
As Dr Lewis says, “Once basic needs are met, a state of happiness occurs when a person feels like they have meaning in their life. Doing things you enjoy, feeling valued, engaging in things consistent with your values, and being content with what is in your life, produces a state of happiness.”