For many people in this world, the idea of happiness is a rather simple concept in theory. Most of the time, it involves doing things or being in positions that make us feel good. Some of us associate happiness with having a good job that allows us to provide for a family. Some of us think about traveling the world and experiencing exotic cultures. Some of us are happy just being able to bring others to that state through means such as community service and volunteering. And while these are all viable options of achieving happiness, it doesn’t really answer the question of what happiness exactly is. Is it as simple as just being in a state of well-being that is the polar opposite of being in an undesirable state? Can it be characterized or quantified? Is it even real, or is the entire effect just a placebo to stave off something else?
From a religious standpoint, the idea of achieving happiness seems to have deep roots in ethical concerns and, as St. Thomas Aquinas states, “an operation of the speculative intellect.” More simply, a contemplation of what are considered divine matters. Many religions believe that true happiness does not necessarily occur for the self, but rather through the self in acts of outward kindness and the betterment of circumstances for those around him or her. This is why ethics seems to play a crucial role in religions and spiritual beliefs such as Confucianism.
In many religions, happiness – true happiness – is not something to be attained be in the mortal world. Rather, there are those who might say that the struggle for happiness is a life-long endeavor, because true happiness is only attainable in the afterlife – Heaven, as many religions call it, particularly Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All of these religions offer specific aims in life, ways for those faithful to them to live and to treat others. The ideal for all of these is the effort of appealing to God, receiving judgment at the time of our deaths and to be found worthy of entering Heaven.
For other religions such as Buddhism, happiness is a matter of “settling karmic debt.” Buddhism encourages following a code of guidelines known as the Noble Eightfold Path – some may this is similar to the structure of something like the Ten Commandments in Christianity. However, Buddhism also places emphasis on the concept of rebirth, a concept that usually leaves many people confused as some differentiate it from reincarnation. The general goal of rebirth in Buddhism is to attain a state known as Nirvana – complete freedom from desire, jealousy and ignorance. It is described as a state of pure contentment and understanding.
The common thread in many of these religions is that, while being happy does exist in the realm of mortal lives and while many may interpret happiness as a state of mind, true happiness as far as many religions seem to define it or its ability to be attained is with service, compassion and understanding toward a divine power and outwardly to others. In some cases, such as Buddhism specifically, this sort of attained happiness – or peace or bliss – can take several lifetimes to achieve. When this state is finally reached, the necessity of death and rebirth no longer exists, and one knows true happiness as an end state.