What is Happiness?

Today is International Day of Happiness. Since 2013, the United Nations has celebrated the International Day of Happiness on March 20 as “a way to recognize the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world.” To mark the occasion I revisited the post below, originally published in 2021 months before I knew I’d be living the expat life as an immigrant retiree in Portugal a year later. Now, my life is exploding with happiness as I’m making many of my dreams come true. Yet, the question “What is Happiness?” continues to have relevance.

I recently debated this question with a Portuguese friend here. Where we found common ground was our mutual belief that happiness is not a constant state of joy. On the contrary. As a new resident of a foreign country where I’m making my home alone, my pinch-me-I’m-dreaming happiness has been punctuated by moments of sadness, fear, disappointment, discouragement, doubt, and loneliness. Of course it has. But my commitment to training my mind, heart, and eyes to see the “insignificant” joys and tiny wins all around me helps sustain an overall feeling of happiness within, despite the natural ebb and flow of other emotions.

I want to thank Khaya and Brian, whose recent blog articles led me back to this old post. I hope, dear readers, you enjoy this re-post and find common ground in the perspectives of bloggers from around the world who contributed to the original article. Happiness. It’s not always what you think.

Happy expat in Portugal

What is Happiness?

I often say I am now the happiest I have ever been in my life, with the exception of the day my son and only child was born. When I said this to a friend a while ago, she reacted with disbelief. After all, I’d previously shared my disappointment at losing an exciting opportunity I thought I had in the bag. I’d lamented an increasingly unsatisfying romantic relationship that would’ve been better as a friendship. I’d complained about an investment gamble I’d taken that hadn’t worked out in my favor in the short term. And, on top of all that, I had not been feeling well physically. What did I mean I was the happiest I’d ever been in my life? How could that be?

Being happy doesn’t mean I’m never disappointed or sad. As I explained here, it means I’ve allowed myself to take notice and soak in more of all the little ordinary moments of happy feelings that occur throughout my day. It means I’ve given myself permission to be happy by finding happy in things everywhere around me. Solituvation. Bourbon barrels. Nature. My son’s laugh.

I think we get it wrong when we think happiness comes from extraordinary things happening in our lives. “Happy” feelings can be fleeting yet recurring.  For me, happiness comes from noticing and appreciating all the little ordinary things that make me smile and bring me moments of joy every day. 

What Do You Think?

Happiness is different for everyone, so I asked 10 fellow bloggers to weigh in on what happiness is to them. While there are common themes among their answers, you’ll also find differing perspectives. Some had previously written about happiness, and were kind enough to allow me to include links to their earlier posts here. Thank you to everyone for contributing!

Kaushal Kishore explains how peace, detachment, and acceptance are keys to happiness in his post, Golden Rules of Happiness…

Source: Kaushal Kishore

Libby at Goddess Attainable finds happiness in little details:

Life is so full of so many rich and delicious details. I don’t think I can describe happiness in one broad stroke, but rather in the details. Happiness is the natural and warm affection exchanged between my partner and I. It’s laughing so hard that no sound comes out, with my twin sister, at something only the two of us get. Happiness is seeing and smelling all flowers, in all forms, at all times. It’s an annual weekend away with my four favorite people, eating, sharing, and enjoying each other. It’s realizing that with every passing year of my life, things seem to get easier, and less scary, and more open, and filled with supreme peace. It’s watching Harry Potter, or Ghostbusters, or Jurassic Park, when I have all the time in the world to watch it. And it’s chocolate. Mother fucking chocolate, in all forms.

Dawn of CreatedbyDeesign writes in her post, Finding Happiness, about feeling happiness in little moments.

Source: CreatedbyDeesign

Khaya of Khaya Rhonkainen also writes of finding happiness in simple things:

What is happiness?

The smell of freshly baked bread, taste of berries I picked from the wild, sound of my brother’s voice on the phone, a hug from my baby sister I wish I could spend more time with, sight of my fast-growing nephews and nieces are the happiness that is all my senses. 

Beauty of a pause, silence, me and my thoughts daydreaming, conversations with my fictional characters are the happiness I pour out on the paper. To be moved by music or muse in mundane places such as a grocery store is the happiness I’ll gladly serve as poetry for dinner. 

Autumn is happiness. Nature’s invitation to freely wander off the beaten track and go skinny-dipping. A rainy day is happiness of simply snuggling up on a sofa with my hubby as we binge watch our favourite series. Happiness is simple things, really, for this introverted soul. 

Kathy of Kwoted and Navigating the Change finds happiness in being herself:

Happiness is when you can walk into a room and be yourself…unapologetically. It’s when you don’t have to be concerned about if your personal self is going to clash with your professional self. It’s when you’ve unlearned all of the made-up societal rules and decided you can make up the rules—as you go along. Happiness is being you.

Anand of Ananda Only also believes happiness is found within:

We assume it stems from something outside, that can fulfill or complete us. Our careers or partners, hobbies or achieved goals. What unifies them is their ability to make us happy enough to forget about ‘ourselves’. They trigger a joy we spend our entire lives in pursuit of. 

But while the pleasure we draw from each of these may be significant, in the fullness of time they are momentary and fleeting. And what remains constant is this chase for that elusive upliftment. A hunt that drains us, make us fearful and uncertain. 

Happiness in fact is our true nature. Briefly uncovered during those moments of pure bliss when we stop thinking and allow ourselves to be. Hidden beneath the bells and whistles of our personality and life stories. A quiet inner stillness that is always available. That unravels itself from within when we stop searching for it outside. That is meditation. That is happiness. That is you. 

Jeff of Develop. Inspire. Transform agrees happiness is not found in external things:

Happiness, like all concepts, is socially constructed. Meaning that, though many people are socialized to find happiness outside of themselves, in the objects in the world, happiness does not live outside of the self. 

When we look outside of ourselves for happiness, we are sure to be disappointed, as all external things are transitory, always coming and going. Thus, when we attach happiness to an external object, and that external object goes away, we are left feeling a lack of happiness.

However, when we realize that happiness comes from within, we become aware of the process of attaching happiness to external objects and can question these social constructs, and make mental modifications. The result of which is true happiness.

It is also important to understand that the concept and experience of happiness exists, because of the concept and experience of sadness. They go together. Meaning, that we cannot experience happiness, without also expecting to experience sadness. Understanding this also creates freedom from self-imposed limitations on experiencing both happiness and sadness; and, for me, there is great freedom in this understanding.

Beth McKinley writes that true happiness is about self in her blog post Happiness.

Source: Beth McKinley

Brad of Writing to Freedom has a different view on happiness:

Our cultural fascination with happiness bothers me. To me, it is part of a larger trend putting personal gain and growth above the welfare of others and the planet.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting happiness or personal development are bad, but they might not be the best goals or ways to orient our lives. Our self oriented lives have led us to a world full of hate, war, extreme wealth gaps, starvation, climate change, and mass extinction. We need people, relationships, and love to survive and grow.

What if we oriented our lives around love and helping others instead of personal gain? When we pursue meaning, we develop relational and adaptive skills that I believe better serve us and the planet. There is new research suggesting we need to evolve and live like fungi; connecting in networks, collaborating, and cooperating. The survival of humans and the planet may depend on it. So I’m choosing love, and inviting you to join me in orienting our lives toward helping others rather than happiness.

Here are two posts that explore this topic further called Chasing Happiness and Upgrading to Love.

Kay of Over Fifty and Fine writes she knows happiness better now that she knows what happiness is not:

At nearly 58, I have only just come to terms with the fact that happiness is not a destination, not one of permanence anyway. Happiness, for me, has morphed from what it was when I was a child when it was intertwined with that constantly taken-for-granted state of being carefree and without worry. It has become momentary and fleeting, and with that realization, more potent and impactful. Hearing my grown child’s voice. A memory of the last conversation I had with my mother. The sight of children playing with Legos. And yes, even those few peaceful moments late at night before retiring or early in the morning upon rising when I realize that I made it through another day and have the privilege of more time.

More time to grab bites, both big and small, of contentment and peace. Once I learned and accepted that happiness is not enduring and that it is ultimately peace that I crave, continuity and constancy of a love that sustains, then I realized that I’ve had more happiness than I thought. I know happiness better because I am aware of what happiness is not. It is not permanent. It is not tangible. It is not a state-of-being. It is a feeling — the feeling of being caught off guard by a moment in time that warms me from the inside out, and then emboldens me to take another breath and another step.

What about you? What do you think happiness is? Is it found within ourselves, in external small moments, through helping others…or are all of these part of living a happy life?

Happy Friday Monday. Whatever that means to you.❤

Thank you again to the 10 lovely fellow bloggers who made me happy by contributing to this post.

All images, except as noted, are my own.

The Hot Goddess


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  1. Funny, isn’t it? I read this timely post because I cannot fall asleep. Why? Because soon I will be walking 1400 km from the Mediterranean to a town on the northwestern coast of Spain that has welcomed seekers for more than 1000 years. I am excited and afraid but I am going, still.

    Although I know myself, I believe that I will discover much more about who I am. I may uncover the parts of myself I unconsciously buried long ago and was afraid to let out. Just today I was thinking about this very thing. But you know what? I felt happy that those moments of discovery will mean that I am stepping into a new life.

    My hope is that it can mitigate the feeling that my usefulness as a woman of age is over. At that moment I felt a flicker of happiness. It is hard to know for sure because happiness, like perfection, is influenced by our life experiences up to a point as you pointed out.

    Thank you for your insight.🌹

    Liked by 2 people

    • Shirley, it’s happening! How exciting you’re about to embark on this journey of self-discovery and learning. Happiness is relative and different for all, but I believe seeking a greater understanding of self is an important piece of happiness. I’m excited for you, and look forward to hearing about your trek. 💜


  2. Happiness! You’ve said it all so well, Natalie. I love your honesty about living the expat life as an immigrant retiree in Portugal. You give a balanced perspective, the joys and challenges. And you continue to give yourself permission to be happy. You inspire!

    Also thanks for the reminder that today is International Day of Happiness. I’m going to walk around with that thought and feeling all day. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was the most inspiring and best way to start my week Natalie.! Thank you !
    I’m learning more and more as time passes and with the gravity of pain and loss, disappointment and doubt that my happiness is forever embedded in me. It can be dissolved or withered away, lost or forgotten because each day I live with my eyes and heart open, I am greeted with unexpected gifts of joy . Happiness is receiving it all with deep reverence for making its way to you despite the hopelessness has tried to obscure it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “My happiness is forever embedded in me.” Such an important but difficult lesson to learn, isn’t it? The journey is long and the detours plentiful, but the clarity that comes with aging has been a guiding light. I love how you celebrate and share the happiness embedded within you ❤️


  4. As you mentioned happiness is not a constant. I, like everyone else, am an emotional creature and my state changes daily. These days, though, there is an underlying feeling of being content that comes from liking the person I have become and not wanting more from life than I have. I realized that I am ok if I don’t get to travel the way I once wanted. I am ok with the fact that I don’t plan to write and publish more in retirement as I once planned. I relish the small things, all the simple joys and accomplishments that I fill my days with, watching baseball games on TV, a dish of ice cream after dinner, the fact that my son calls several times a week. I love my easy relaxing life. I don’t need any more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, yes, yes! You said it perfectly, Jennifer: “…there is an underlying feeling of being content that comes from liking the person I have become…” That is life-changing, and it took me a long time to get there. Thank you for sharing ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  5. ““Happy” feelings can be fleeting yet recurring. For me, happiness comes from noticing and appreciating all the little ordinary things that make me smile and bring me moments of joy every day.”

    I agree with this now. Before I went through healing and developed happiness, I had a difficult time feeling it because my anxieties and depressions were interfering with it. I even wrote a book about this process for others like me who needed to find the path and learn for themselves.

    People say happiness is an inside job, one we do for ourselves. So is clearing out the old debris in our spirits that are blocking us from feeling happy.

    Love this post!! Happy a Happiness Day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Tamara, I so relate to the struggle to clear debris and manage depression. My happiness mindset is not my default setting. Decades of healing, and the growing wisdom of midlife, helped bring me here…a place I never imagined was possible in my younger days. I’m happy you found your way here too ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you Natalie for sharing your beautiful collage on what happiness means to you and others. I’m very grateful and touched to have been included in this group post. I also find happiness in the little and ordinary joys while finding a more lasting contentment when my life is aligned with things that matter to me. Happy International Day of Happiness and kudos on living your dreams. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I resonate most with Kaushal Kishore’s thoughts on happiness (and love that graphic of the intersection of the 3 circles that provides happiness!). Definitely peace and contentment with one’s self and decisions means happiness for me, and being resilient/detached enough to be accepting of any outcomes. Staying in the moment, and noticing/being grateful for the wonders of life happening around me. My life is filled with happiness now and I am glad I (eventually and not without trauma) got here.

    Thank you for this post, Natalie 💕


    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a perfect ost for Intl Happiness Day, Natalie. I think you’ve said it all. Sadly, too many people don’t seem to understand that more money and more “things” don’t bring happiness, you find it within yourself. Have a happy day, Natalie!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow wow wow – what an awesome post. I’m so glad you posted it again. A fantastic arrangement of happiness and maybe even a definition in an of itself – happiness is when we come together to create something great. Beautiful, Natalie!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Wynne! I love that definition of happiness as coming together to create something. Wouldn’t the world be a happier place if we could come together to create for the greater good? Happy, happy thoughts ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a treat to read you, Natalie. 😊 I know it’s time to make a hot tea and get comfy when I see your posts. 🍵 Thank you for appreciating my writing voice. I am grateful. Whatever the subject I like to end with hope. 💖 For others and myself. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Love your post Natalie! Love how you spell it out that happiness ebbs and flows and means dealing with both the good and bad. We all assume that it’s an “either/or” statement. As you mentioned, it’s really more than that. Love it. Thanks so much Natalie for the call out too. Very much appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for sharing my words, Natalie! I totally forgot that I’d even responded to this lol

    I also see I’m in some good company 😉

    I have to add that your documentation of living in Portugal has brought me a lot of joy. It is amazing to see a Black woman being fearless and paving her own way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy, thank you so much for this! First, I appreciate that you took the time to write a response given how busy you always are. Second, your supportive words during my moving process have made me smile. I don’t always feel fearless, but having folks rooting for me makes me feel as if I’ve got this! Hugs

      Liked by 1 person

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