STRONGER TOGETHER: The Pursuit of Happiness

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Last updated: 10/06/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the complexities of happiness, suggesting that true contentment may lie not in material possessions or achievements, but in living a life aligned with one’s purpose and values, and appreciating the small moments of joy.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Happiness is the ultimate goal for many of us, shaping our choices, ambitions, and social circles. We chase it, hoping that certain achievements or possessions will make us happier. But is that really the case?

The World Happiness Report has been measuring happiness across societies and countries since 2012. People of different ages, gender, socioeconomic status, cultures, and backgrounds from 143 countries provide a subjective, self-evaluation of their wellbeing based on life evaluations, positive emotions, and negative emotions based on Catril's Ladder life evaluation question:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 1 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?

Why does this report hold such significance? Happiness has emerged as one of the strongest indicators of a country's social progress. Australia is ranked tenth on the 2024 World Happiness Report (Finland was first; Afghanistan last), however the ranking drops to 19 when measuring only the responses from those under the age of 30.

For many, happiness is the measure of a 'good' life, often serving as our 'why', or the underlying motivation behind our actions and decisions. How often have you heard parents say that they just want their children "to be happy" above all else?

Why, then, are there so many unhappy people in the world today?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, happiness is a state of wellbeing and contentment; joy; a pleasurable or satisfying experience. While material possessions can ignite fleeting joy, they rarely pave the way to lasting happiness. The relentless pursuit of goals and achievements doesn’t hold the secret to sustainable contentment, either.

So, what if it isn’t about us and what we acquire for ourselves? What if instead, it is about sharing something important that is unique to us – our time, knowledge, friendship, experience. Doing things that light us up and are aligned to our beliefs and values – doing things that really matter to us. Could that be the real path to happiness?

People with a clear understanding of their purpose in life, and who feel that they are living their purpose, experience deep feelings of happiness and satisfaction. BUT this doesn’t mean that this journey of happiness is an easy one. It is filled with challenges, doubts, and the usual crappy stuff that happens in everyday life, but even on the worst day, it doesn’t mean that we can’t experience moments of happiness and joy.

Catching those fleeting moments of joy – that is the key. And hopefully over time, it stops being the goal and is instead replaced with a sense of peace, and deep contentment, knowing there's happiness in everyday, even if it’s not always immediately apparent.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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