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What Happiness Is, According to the Greatest Minds in History

Consult a dictionary, and the answer to one of life’s most pressing questions — what is happiness? — can be summed up quite succinctly: a state of well being and contentment. But ask 10 different people what happiness is on a given day and it’s unlikely you’ll get the same response twice, much less in just six words.

While happiness can be universally characterized by feelings of joy, gratitude, and contentment, the roadmaps we use to arrive there are entirely unique. For some, being happy can seem like an ephemeral concept, a fleeting feeling brought on by success or good fortune. For others, cultivating happiness from within is the most worthy pursuit, whether it’s by slowing down and appreciating the present moment, developing a meditation practice, or reconnecting to your purpose. To quote the German-Swiss poet Herman Hesse, “Happiness is a how; not a what. A talent, not an object.”

Many of history’s greatest minds, from the ancient Greeks to modern thinkers, have ruminated on the root of happiness and made some striking observations that may make you stop and think, could this be the key? Through these words of wisdom, a common thread to happiness just might be found — or perhaps many different threads can be weaved together to form your own personal tapestry.

The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet.
James Oppenheim

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
Mahatma Gandhi

Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.
Pericles

Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product.
Eleanor Roosevelt

I don’t want a job. I have eight acres of fields outside the city wall, enough for vegetables and grain. I also have an acre and a half of farmland nearby, which gives me enough silk and hemp. Strumming my zithers is enough to give me pleasure, studying Tao with you is enough to make me happy. I don’t want a job.
Yan Hui, a disciple of Confucius

Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.
Dalai Lama

We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.
Frederick Koenig

Don’t wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you’ve got to make yourself.
Alice Walker

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Happiness depends upon ourselves.
Aristotle

Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.
Martin Luther King Jr.

Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.
Helen Keller

Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get.
W. P. Kinsella

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.
Marcus Aurelius

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.
Thich Nhat Hanh

All happiness depends on courage and work.
Honoré de Balzac

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.
Seneca

Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Happiness is something that multiplies when it is divided.
Paulo Coelho

Genuine happiness can only be achieved when we transform our way of life from the unthinking pursuit of pleasure to one committed to enriching our inner lives, when we focus on 'being more' rather than simply having more.
Daisaku Ikeda

Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life.
Benjamin Franklin

Happiness exists on earth, and it is won through prudent exercise of reason, knowledge of the harmony of the universe, and constant practice of generosity.
José Martí

Of all the means to insure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.
Epicurus

The only way to be truly happy is to make others happy.
William Carlos Williams

Many people think excitement is happiness…. But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Photo credit: Credit: meriç tuna/ Unsplash

About the Author
Lauren Alexander
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