Define happiness

Kenadi Browne and Megan So

The dictionary defines happiness as “the quality or state of being happy,” including synonyms such as pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss, contentedness, delight, and enjoyment. Liberty students know what these words mean, but do they truly know what happiness is? Join the Patriot Press as we explore what it means to be truly happy, and how we can achieve it in our lives.

As high school students, we face heavy pressure to focus on the “big picture” of life—our GPAs, test scores, plans for after high school. What we don’t always discuss, however, is our happiness: something that many students and teachers believe to be more significant. We are told that it is essential to our success, but do we really know what it means?
What is happiness?
Happiness, sophomore Hannah Julius says, is a state of being.
“Happiness is feeling content with your situation at the moment,” Julius said. “It’s feeling satisfied with where you are at that moment in time and what you’ve accomplished.”
Biology teacher Charles Cerveny agrees, defining happiness not as a set path, but as an individual awareness.
“Happiness means that you’re okay with where you are in your life,” Cerveny said. “For me, I know that I’m where I want to be right now, personally and professionally, and I know things could change but for right now, what I’ve got is what I need.”
For Cerveny, happiness has been a lifelong journey. He says it’s okay if students don’t know what makes them happy yet: they have a long time to figure that out.
“I think I’ve been through enough that I’ve figured out what happiness means for me,” Cerveny said. “You don’t know exactly what it is that makes you happy, or what your personal definition of happiness is, until you are there for a while.”
Another perspective on the definition of happiness comes from Liberty’s mental health counselor Cecelia Oxford. For her, happiness means having balance.
“It’s easy to go fast in one direction and forget all the parts of yourself that are equally important,” Oxford said. “So when I am in a space where I can put energy into the things that are important, that’s when I feel the most content.”
She says this idea can definitely apply to students as well, and that it’s especially important for students because of how much emphasis is put on academics.
“One of the things that I see students struggle with is that they’re pushed into an academic focus, so the idea of exploring their more creative side is difficult,” Oxford said. “This makes sense since that’s the place in life that they are at, but it’s just hard, especially for students, to find that balance.”
“Happiness is a big deal, and I think how it looks in each person is unique,” she said.
Why are we sad?
According to Cerveny, students have a hard time finding happiness simply because they don’t yet know who they are.
“I’ve known a lot of miserable people that often make themselves miserable because they keep trying for things that they either can’t attain or they just aren’t ready to attain yet,” Cerveny said. “People need to know that they don’t have to be someone else, or meet expectations for someone else, or be approved of by someone else in order to be happy.”
Cerveny also considers one’s happiness to be a major influence on others in that what you are feeling will reflect on the others around you, and cause their happiness or—in some cases—lack of happiness.
“Often, unhappiness will trickle down to other people like their family and friends and make them miserable too, so I think being happy is pretty important,” Cerveny said. “If you aren’t good on your own terms, you’re not going to treat other people very well.”
Like Cerveny, Oxford believes that this time in students’ lives, when they are just starting to find themselves, is very challenging because there is so much influence from others.
“The key to finding happiness is figuring out who you are and exploring that person, and letting some of those expectations go and coming more into yourself,” Oxford said. “I think that’s a lot easier said than done, especially for students because there are still so many expectations. You still have parents who are directing you and telling you what you need to do but you’re also moving towards adulthood and that process of finding out ‘who I am,’ ‘what I believe,’ ‘do I believe this or do I just believe it because I’m told to.’”
A variety of different factors play a part in each individual’s happiness. While Cerveny and Oxford feel that a person’s happiness is strongly affected by outside influences, senior Max Batali believes that happiness is a personal feeling.
“There are obstacles and other challenges in life that definitely prevent me from being happier than I am, especially the fear of failure,” Batali said. “I know that failure can make you stronger and teach you lessons, but it’s still scary.”
English teacher Steve Valach also considers the feeling to be mostly internal.
“For me, I’m the thing that prevents me from being happy: it’s my selfishness that gets in the way, my lack of gratitude,” Valach said. “I think too that it’s a lack of margin in my life. When I fill up all the space in my life and there’s no time to be reflective that can really undermine my happiness and joy for life.”
How do we find happiness?
Religion is an essential part of happiness for Valach and sophomore Luke Ransom.
“For me, my faith as a Christ follower is at the core of it. I believe that each of us is a beloved son or daughter, that we were created by God on purpose for a purpose,” Valach said. “So religion does factor in, and joy and happiness, for me, is not based on circumstances. I get to choose joy even in the midst of really hard stuff because of my faith.”
“I rely on God a lot. I find a lot of peace in that and trusting Him to get me through everything,” Ransom said. “The ultimate form of happiness is always looking on the bright side and having peace with everything in your day.”
For others, it’s their family that brings them joy. Oxford and forensics teacher Kaela Yuen both say their young daughters create happiness.
“I find happiness in the small things,” Oxford said. “In the morning, my daughter runs downstairs or climbs into bed with me and watches cartoons while I’m working on getting up. These moments are reminders to me why I do what I do, why I put energy in the things I put energy into.”
“It’s really neat to see a child who is just so innocent, to whom everything is so new and exciting and awesome, and I think having my daughter has given me a new perspective on life,” Yuen said. “The best thing is coming home from work and her running to me yelling ‘mommy’ with her arms open. My family, just feeling that love, is really what makes me the most happy.”
Cerveny firmly believes that happiness comes from within, and that while it takes time, it’s more rewarding than anything else.
“Students don’t need to worry about what other people are doing or what they have,” Cerveny said. “They should try and be themselves rather than trying to be someone that they think they want to be, or someone they’re not. Being honest to yourself about who you are and where you’re going is the best way to find happiness.”