3 Questions to Help You Define Happiness

“Happy isn’t a place you arrive at and live there forever and ever.  Passion isn’t something you can find under a rock in your backyard.  They’re just words we use to describe a way of living and feeling and being from one day to the other.” – From this blog’s About page

It’s hard to write a blog about happiness when the very definition of the word happiness is often the subject of debate and, I think, best left to individual interpretation.

My goal in sharing my thoughts on happiness and passion isn’t to tell you what you need to be happy – beware of anyone who suggests they’ve uncovered some universal key to happiness. And if I can’t tell you what would make you happy, I surely can’t tell you exactly how to get there. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to rob you of that journey of discovery.

No. My goal is simply to encourage you to believe that your version of happiness exists and to share with you some ideas about defining, finding and holding on to that happiness.

My goal, ultimately, is to make you more aware and encourage you to act on that awareness.

Awareness is, I believe, the closest thing there is to a Universal “first step” towards a happier and more fulfilling life.

Awareness of what?

While who we are and what we want can always change, I’ve found that it’s extremely helpful to be aware of:

  • My values
  • My priorities
  • My preferences

If I stay aware of these three things and use them to make conscious decisions every day, I’m able to live my own version of happiness.

What are your values?

I always assumed I knew what my values were, but I realized when I was going through my separation that I spent most of my life trying to make decisions based on what I thought people were supposed to value. Those values weren’t necessarily good or bad, I just hadn’t taken the time to decide if they were mine.

Take the time to clearly identify your belief system for yourself.

Maybe you say them out loud, maybe you write them in a journal, or maybe you sit down with your spouse and tell them what you value. Even just making a mental note of the beliefs by which you guide your life can heighten your sense of awareness.

At this moment, I value personal responsibility, love and compassion, time with my family, health and conservation of resources. Some of my other values include adventure, doing new things, and constant growth. These phrases might not mean the same thing to you as they do to me, but I recognize the foundations of my value system.

What are your priorities?

Life is about choices. Always and constantly. Every single day we are presented with choices – how will we live? how will we work? where will spend our time, money, and energy? Our priorities tell us how to make these decisions.

This may seem like Personal Growth Bullshit for Babies, but this step is something many of us assume we take while skipping right over it every single day.

Becoming more aware of our values and priorities makes everyday choices potentially monumental – constant awareness can be a bitch.

But conscious decisions can also transform mundane decisions into powerful ones.

It’s how you become the guy with a carbon footprint of zero who grows all of his own food on his fire escape in Manhattan. It’s how you become the family who spends three years riding bikes from Alaska to Argentina. It’s how you become the president, the founder, the champion, or the crazy neighbor lady who just always seem so damn chipper about something all the time.

Being aware of our priorities and allowing them to guide us helps us lead authentic, remarkable lives.

Do you know what comes first in your life? Second, third, and fourth?

What are your preferences?

Gretchen Rubin wrote a great article recently about personal preferences that reminded me how important it is to give our wants, quirks and unique desires weight in our decision-making process.

I struggle with this and often see others struggle, too. We create elaborate justifications in an attempt to elevate our wants to either need status or Things That Are For Others. We seem convinced that the only worthy pursuits are those that obviously benefit someone else, especially if we have kids. We tell ourselves that people who think about personal wants are selfish and immature.

People who admit they have wants are honest.

People who unapologetically let their personal preferences influence their lives honor who they were created to be.

Actively answer these questions for yourself.

Push yourself until you can verbalize or picture the answers. They don’t have to make sense to anyone else, but they should be clear enough that you can use them as a guide.

What are your values?

What are your priorities?

What are your preferences?

The answers to these questions can help you define happiness for yourself and tell you how to find it.

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  1. this line put a huge smile on my face: “People who unapologetically let their personal preferences influence their lives honor who they were created to be.”

    and i feel the need to holler AMEN!

  2. Megan says:

    I love, love, love Gretchen and The Happiness Project. She puts together a bunch of small things that end up making you so much happier.

    I can attest to the fact that doing what you think you should be doing instead of what you really want to be doing doesn’t work – at least as far as happiness is concerned.

  3. Mandi Bone says:

    Right before I read you this morning I wrote an email to someone that said “I would love to be a part of this but I can”t because of other obligations.” These are obligations that I am doing for all the wrong reasons. They don’t make me happy or make my life better. After I read this I emailed them back to say disregard that last email. I am in.

  4. Loukia says:

    I feel lIke I need to write you a cheque after reading this post – it’s like you’re a therapist! I don’t really have my answers yet. Or maybe I just need to think about this for a longer time.

  5. Greeneyezz says:


    It’s been a long time since I’ve stopped by here. You changed the focus of your site.

    In Pursuit of Happiness

    I’m somehow reminded of a story of a small puppy, chasing his tail in circles, and the Old dog watching him. The puppy said he heard that happiness was in his tail and he was going to chase it until he caught it. The old dog agreed that happiness is indeed in his tail, but instead of pursuing it & chasing it, if he just went about his own business, happiness would *always* follow him.

    Don’t forget that. :)


  6. pocket_queen says:

    Simply brilliant! And you know what else? This whole pursuit of happiness thing is making you a better writter, specially in terms of connecting to your audience.. It’s really easy to identify with what you’re saying (even though our lives are completely different.. you even make me think of how I would parent my kid if I had one, and believe me, I do not want one anytime soon!), so that shows that you’re growing on another facet as well! :)

  7. [...] I can’t tell you what exactly is on that list for – that’s a matter of your own values, priorities and preferences. But I can say with a fair amount of confidence that, even with these additions, your “have [...]

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