A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: Happiness

by Amber Lea Starfire on June 13, 2011

The U.S. constitution acknowledges our basic right to pursue happiness. And so we do. But happiness seems to be an elusive prize: each time we believe we’ve attained it, it seems to slip from our grasp once again. This may be, in part, because we’re not exactly sure what happiness is.

So what is happiness? According to my computer’s dictionary, it is a feeling of pleasure or contentment; having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with (a person, arrangement, or situation); satisfied with the quality or standard of [something]. Synonyms include contentment, pleasure, satisfaction, cheerfulness, joy, joyfulness, delight, lightheartedness, well-being, rapture, bliss, and euphoria.

The Dalai Lama says, “the very purpose of life is to be happy.” But, when our understanding of happiness includes everything from simple pleasure to rapture — all of which are temporary, as is the nature of feelings in general — how is a person to know when he’s truly happy? And is it a state that can be attained and/or sustained?

This week’s journal writing prompts will help you explore your thoughts, feelings, and values around the concept of happiness.

  1. Turn on some quiet instrumental music (no lyrics) and freewrite for ten to twenty minutes about what “happiness” means to you.
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  2. In what ways do you pursue happiness in your life (what methods do you use and/or actions do you take)? What are the results of your efforts?
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  3. My mother used to say that happiness is overrated. She preferred, instead, the adrenaline rush of anxiety because it spurred to her new discoveries and achievements. What do you think about that attitude. Does it have merit? Why or why not?
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  4. Do you consider yourself a happy or unhappy person by nature? Another way of asking the question is, what is your default state? One of relative contentment and happiness, or one of discontent and unhappiness? Are you a “glass half-full” or a “glass half-empty” kind of person? Whatever your answer, explore in writing the reasons you think what you do about yourself (what evidence do you have of your “natural” state?), and how it affects your general approach to life.
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  5. Write about the following quotes. How do you feel after reading each one? Other thoughts?
    • The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be. (Marcel Pagnol, French writer, producer and film director)
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    • If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things. (Albert Einstein)
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    • Don’t rely on someone else for your happiness and self worth. Only you can be responsible for that. If you can’t love and respect yourself – no one else will be able to make that happen. Accept who you are – completely; the good and the bad – and make changes as YOU see fit – not because you think someone else wants you to be different. (Stacey Charter, cancer survivor)
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  6. Some people say that happiness is relative and that without the contrast with pain and discontent, pleasure and contentment have no meaning. Have difficult periods of your life enhanced your sense of joy and pleasure during the “up” times? If so, how. If not, why not?
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  7. What factors most influence your sense of happiness? And do you think that expectations play a role?

Share your thoughts.  Leave a comment!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Nathalie ( @spacedlaw ) June 13, 2011 at 11:35 am

Right now, happiness is a warm bowl of soup at the end of a amazingly trying day. Happiness is in the small things, those we overlook so easily or – worse, still – take for granted.
Thanks for a great prompt. With a difficult – and by now contrary – week ahead of me, I shall be sure to look for the small shiny moments along the way.

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Amber Lea Starfire June 13, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Thanks for the comment, Nathalie. Yes, happiness tends to be in the small things for me, too … it’s in the slowing down to notice, I think. When I’m noticing, I’m more awake.

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Sonja June 14, 2011 at 5:54 am

I really liked this week’s journaling topic, “Happiness”! You’re right it can be elusive, but I think it’s all a matter of focus. If we choose, “nearsightedness”, it can be very hard at times to find the good things in life.
If we push our focus out and become, “farsighted”, happiness is much easier to find and hold on to. I have times when it’s really hard for me not to be nearsighted; when I’m not reaching my goal weight, when my kids are not helping with the chores, when my husband wants me to drop everything and run errands for him! If I push my vision outward I see that; I have lost and kept off 80lbs for 4yrs, my kids are just being normal kids, and my husband works hard and deserves my help.
If we all stop to realize that, it’s some of the little things in life, that make us “unhappy”. If we add up all of life parts, I’m sure most of us will find that “happiness” is the bigger part of our lives! Especially if we realize that,euphoria, was never meant to be a constant condition. Euphoria is meant for the best parts of our Happiness! Keep you bifocals on and look out of the top half more than the bottom!!

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Amber Lea Starfire June 14, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Sonja, it’s interesting — we have one concept of happiness (the previous commenter) as coming from slowing down and being in the moment, and another (yours) of being “farsighted,” which I read as keeping life in perspective, viewing each day as part of the whole. A function of equanimity. Ah yes, and the difference between euphoria and happiness … or perhaps as a subset of happiness. I love reading different perspectives, thoughts, and ways of describing things. Thank you for joining the conversation.

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