Various Versions of Happiness
Bill Cottringer

Happiness is what you do to stumble upon it.” ~The Author.

The pursuit of happiness is something we all engage in, to some degree or another. And the last I heard, it is still an inalienable constitutional right of Americans and should be for all people on the planet. But this pursuit of happiness is where the commonality starts disappearing—in the many paths people choose to follow to find it. Below are several different paths to happiness people travel.

But before we get to the list, I think it is important to define the very nebulous concept of happiness. There are basically two different kinds of happiness. There is “thin” happiness and there is “thick” happiness. Thin happiness is more ephemeral and includes moments of personal pleasure, fun, contentment, enjoyment and satisfaction. Thick happiness is more organic and absolute, like the framers of the US Declaration of Independence meant when they proposed the inalienable right of all people to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In this sense, thick happiness is more longer lasting and the selfless behaviors resulting in this more genuine, happiness bring an inherently whole package of being with it, which can be an almost overwhelming and abundant flourishment of joyful, blissful and ecstatic emotions. Thin happiness is more of a facilitator or a means to an end, whereas thick happiness is an end in and by itself, not needing anything else to improve the quality of the feeling and being. Let’s start with the common paths to thin happiness, which can eventually thicken.

1. Addictions

We’ll start out with a less common path seeking happiness that usually turns into unhappiness. People often try to find happiness by avoiding unhappiness by over-engaging in things like sex, gambling, food, drinking, and drugs. Bob found out the hard way that although these things can often provide a temporary respite from unhappiness, they can often lead to unrecoverable, long-term unhappiness, with only fleeing moments of happiness. Arlene used religion to overcome her drug addiction, until she woke up to the addictive nature of the substitute religious dogmas. The she moved to nature and yoga where she found more lasting peace of mind, realizing that was more valuable to her than imaginary happiness. In communing with nature and practicing yoga, she understood the importance of not attaching herself too much with any of these sources of happiness and learned more patience at the same time.

2. Money.

It has been said that if money isn’t the most important thing in life, then it is a close second way ahead of everything else (or maybe some famous football coach said that about winning?). At any rate, there is no doubt that money can facilitate happiness in bringing it closer to your doorstep, but there is no inherent or lasting value in it by itself, just as Jerry discovered below. Kelly pursued a lifetime of working to make more and more money, until a bad economic climate threatened to take it all away. Fortunately, that was a wake-up call for her, to start enjoying the work she was doing and letting the money come in from her quality work. She ended up spending money to make more than she needed and then she started giving it away. This is the give to get principle that thickens this happiness source.

3. Hobbies.

Having enjoyable hobbies away from the stressors of work and relationships, is a recommended source of happiness by the self-help gurus. That is, as long as the hobbies don’t become hard work or over-valued as thin happiness. Carlene had a very stressful job in law enforcement full of nasty office politics, negativity and street violence, but she sensibly saved her sanity with her hobbies of cooking, gardening, sports and reading. And as we will see below, John turned his hobby of photography into a profession, doubling his happiness. Joan used reading as a source of uncovering other caches of happiness with knowledge, truth, love, travel and religion. Her happiness kept multiplying that way, not leaving much time for any unhappiness to settle in.

4. Travel.

Traveling can bring a great amount of fun and happiness, but unfortunately today, traveling is restricted because of the Pandemic and will end up costing even more than it did when we could book a vacation. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t some measure of happiness in merely traveling around your local neighborhood, parks, city or State for new experiences. And the money needed for traveling has to make it a value you really want to prioritize. Travel can open the door to many of these other sources to happiness, so it could be money well spent. Casey and Carly didn’t have a family to love or to spend money on, so they did that with travel, even enjoying plane delays by meeting fellow travelers and getting ideas for new adventures. We are all travelers in life and just realizing that helped Beth expand her visiting horizons and happiness to boot. At the least, travel is a mind-opener which we can all benefit from and maybe that is why the Government should subsidize travel Instead of messing around in unwelcome areas) to make it more available. After all, if the pursuit of happiness is a constitutional right, shouldn’t the government help out?

6. Memory.

Marlene lived a great life by getting to participate on all these other sources of happiness and probably enjoyed more genuine happiness in a decade than most people get to feel in a lifetime. But then a nasty divorce took it all away and all she was left with were fond memories of the past. And by over-focusing on her past happiness, this created unhappiness that took all the fun out of it, wondering if she would ever be happy again like before. A smaller scale life version experienced by Marlene happened with Charlie, but he did something different—he realized his past happiness didn’t involve doing anything new in his life. A flashy red sports car, new flamboyant wardrobe, groomed beard and the pursuit of adventure of the unknown, got his happiness motor reworking.

7. Friends.

Alice and Jane were a gay couple who found their happiness with each other and also with the many good friends they had. Of course, all these friends were just as happy as Alice and Jane were, so that worked out quite well. Barry and Cecily never married and didn’t have children. Instead they collected an array of friends, all of which were not that happy or healthy, which unfortunately spilled over to them. Sadly, they never did learn the lesson of picking fiends who were just slightly better than you who could pull you up, rather than pull you down with them. Jay lived a lonely life without any family or friends. That is the graveyard for unhappiness.

8. Work

Any job you are fully engaged in can bring much meaning, happiness and satisfaction. But the happiest people seem to play at the work they do because it is aligned to their life purpose they discovered early on as their life unfolded, whether it be a teacher, doctor, parent, volunteer worker, coach, business owner, store clerk or factory worker. Cary knew that her work was important just because it made up just under a half of her day, with weekends off for playtime. She had to keep a healthy balance to avoid becoming a needed workaholic, but playtime was too good of a stress-buster to put on the back burner. Working yourself to the grave has never been a reliable source of happiness, but rather a fountain of resentment.

9. Family.

Both Jan and Charlie found the most happiness in their immediate and extended family—their parents, each other, their 4 children, many cousins and the eventual clan of in-laws and grandchildren. Every holiday was a giant family get-together and summers were months of family vacations with memorable pictures that exuded happiness. There was lots of love given and received and the happiness was multiplied through the generations. But it doesn’t always turn out that way. Barbara had two children who were her world, but when they left the nest two years apart, she was empty and had to start all over again searching for a good source of happiness, which turned out to be a long, winding road fraught with dead ends. She missed the point of the journey.

10. Nature.

The solace of nature can bring great peace from life’s turmoil, by just appreciating the amazing harmony and natural beauty everywhere. And nature’s turbulence can be very invigorating too, when that animation is needed. John spent his life’s journey photographing nature, first for a hobby and then later as a profession. He learned much knowledge from his trial and error photography that helped improve his photographs and solve other life and work problems and conflicts. He knew there was always a neutral density filter that could balance the amount of lightness and darkness in any scene. John never worried about brief periods of unhappiness and depression, because he knew he would have to work harder to not let them go, than to just relax and let go and let nature follow its natural course.

11. Religion.

Now I know I will offend some by classing religion as a thin source of happiness, but I am referring to more the dogmas of religion that came later, than the truthful and freeing nature of grounded spirituality, mysticism and enlightenment that started religion. Alan Watts wrote an important book called “The Wisdom of Insecurity” that helped Art with his pursuit of happiness as much as reading Dalai Lama’s “The Art of Happiness.” He applied the valuable insights from these two books to not use any source of his happiness as an absolute security blanket protecting him from all adversity and the unhappiness that brings. He approached his church ministries just enjoying the happiness they brought to him and others, rather than using his religious beliefs and work to cure people of their sins, which he accepted as an inevitable part of life. Art truly lived the opening and closing quote, with selfless religious service.

12. Anything.

Going for some of these pathways would seem to logically increase chances of happiness, but it doesn’t always work out that way. You can join forces and still end up empty-handed. Of course, some people still go for the lion’s share, especially ADHR’s never quite satiated with the experience of happiness, or its flip side unhappiness. Most people, however, try the smorgasbord, with serial monogamy--one by one, until they find one that has more gains than losses. John started with religion, at least until his son was killed in a tragic auto accident caused by a drunk driver. Jerry made the mistake of putting all his eggs in one basket, with the money source, until he woke up unhappy one day with all the money in the world. That prompted the needed change to focus more on the quality of his work, than the money he was earning. With that, his happiness was more genuine and satisfying.

Now let’s shift to the thicker kind of happiness:

13. Love.

Loving and being loved can be a fruitful source of joy and unhappiness, but just as easily, it can be an overflowing fountain of sadness, hurt and unhappiness. Some of that involves the selection process, some a matter of perspective and some just plain luck of the draw. Sam played musical chairs in his love life and got a mixture of results—happy one day and miserable the next. Sara stuck with one man her whole life and when he died, she was lost and all she could do is remember her past happiness. Harry was very selective and ended up alone too, after one too many rejections because of his standards. Mary, on the other hand, took the perspective that it was better to love unconditionally and let that bring satisfaction to the need to be loved in return. She was much more happy than unhappy throughout her life. Loving others unconditionally, as hard as it may be, is highly contagious.

14. Truth.

True happiness from truth may be a matter of having the right perspective on it—seeing truth as being more tentative and evolving than fixed and absolute. The closer to seeing reality as it was, and not as he wanted it to be, helped Ralph learn better and more useful principles of how things worked in life, work and with people. This prepared him with a mind and mouth that were meant to help others see what he saw. Helping others to be happy and successful, is a highway to happiness you can take to the bank. On the other hand, Sara found out the hard way, that truth was mostly a matter of from where and when you were seeing it, deluding herself for too many years being amazed at all the truth she thought she knew, instead of being amazing for really knowing it. Only then was she amazingly happy.

15. Wisdom.

Knowledge and wisdom can be a stable source of solid, long-lasting happiness Bill used reading and traveling to gain valuable knowledge, which helped improve his income and this worked reciprocally. He stuck with this as a main course with other love, truth, nature, hobbies and family and friends finger food to keep full. Keeping balanced was his way of avoiding too many periods of unhappiness. Al loved knowledge and wisdom so much that he spent his whole adult life teaching other what he knew. This was a very reliable way to increase his happiness thermometer and decrease the unhappiness mercury. Plus, it was a way of spreading happiness to others, or the best way to love.

16. Service.

No one would doubt the genuine happiness that Mother Teresa got from her life of self-less service and love to the world. And leadership writers have included the “servant leader” as a viable model of effective leadership. Amanda was successful in evolving her service orientation from the good consequences it brought and the way it made her feel, to more unselfish generosity just because it felt right doing, with no nagging doubt she was doing it for some other reason. Of course, this shift is not easy, because we normally learn by the consequences our behavior brings. But it is selfless service that results in the thick authentic happiness.

17. Patience.

Technology today is working against the prime virtue of patience, with the pervasive, instantaneous need gratification syndrome replacing any will to wait for anything, especially what we want now. The difficulty here is that our patience muscles atrophy without practice and use. There is no short cut here, but a diligent effort at self-discipline to increase what patience is needed to bring a thicker, more genuine level of happiness your way. The real key is to start with growing your own patience with everyone else’s lack of it. But you have to know better first.

18. Empathy.

Empathic happiness is as organic and absolute as it gets. I secretly believe that empathy can cure most of the world’s problems. With empathy comes the lack of desire to do any harm to anyone or anything, because you finally realize that whatever you are doing to others you are really just doing to yourself. That is what the Golden Rule means, as a sensible guide to avoid unnecessary unhappiness, hurt and destruction. Nancy was a therapist who devoted her life to seeking any experience that could improve her empathy store to understand and help others better in her work. She even had to tiptoe carefully into the dark side of life, where empathy flourishes, but the takeaway was always worth the uncomfortable investment, as writers know well.

19. Everything.

Here is a strange, provocative reality to consider: If you accept everything—all the pain of the rain with the fun of the sun---without judging behaviors and consequences one way or the other, you not only double your happiness, but you also position yourself better to begin to control the few controllables to improve them and limit the unnecessary unhappiness they bring. The trouble here is that we are taught this habit of judging from a very early age and it has become genetic, virtually impervious to changing. Fortunately, the habit of acceptance grows with age and experience. So, evolving into a thicker state of being happy is a very natural progression, unless of course you reject that proposition.
At the end of the day, all we can really do is live the opening quote—do what ever you think will lead you to stumble upon what happiness that will make you feel life is much more worthwhile than the alternative. Savoring it is much more enjoyable than ignoring or missing it in the rush through life to get to the finish line first. In that sense patience and unhappiness may be synonymous. I sincerely hope this article helps you appreciate what happiness you have so that you can have even more.

“The true secret of happiness is in talking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” ~William Morris.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living on the scenic Snoqualmie River and mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair, (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Thoughts on Happiness; Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.) Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away (Another Dog’s Tale). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067 or