What defines happiness?


In the 2006 movie, The Pursuit of Happiness, staring celebrated actor Will Smith and based on the real life endeavours of Chris Gardner, the actor defines ‘happiness’ as ‘probably something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it no matter what’, that despite how hard we pursue it or chase it, it’s not a destination and that the journey could just be it.

March 20 will mark the International Day of Happiness, a day that was set aside since 2013 by the United Nations to recognise the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world.

But what is happiness? Scholars define happiness as a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Religion, philosophy, cultural beliefs and folk tales have had their take on what happiness is and probably how it can be achieved, but there are never guarantees.

Our day-to-day hustles, engagements and activities are all in pursuit of happiness. And that can be anything; for some, it’s family, and others,financial stability, among other things.

An article published on the Stylist Website, The happiness myth; Is our endless quest for contentment actually making us feel worse? showed that the concept of happiness has never been easy to pin down.

It quoted author Anthony Seldon arguing in his new book Beyond Happiness, that “ today, many of us have learned to define happiness as pleasure: the rush of endorphins we experience when we buy a new dress or drink a delicious glass of wine, but this feeling fades quickly, leaving us constantly craving the next hit.”

According to an important study in 2008 by Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, using data from twins, 50 per cent of our happiness is genetically pre-determined. Our environment and circumstances also play a part.

It’s a ‘chicken-and-egg’ scenario, in which the more obsessed we become with happiness, the more the industry bombards us with self-help books, CDs and apps offering a blueprint for wellbeing, keeping us firmly glued in our obsession, the article read.

The problem with constant happiness is that it’s neither possible, nor desirable. Evolutionary biologists believe that our happiness levels are programmed not to rise above a certain threshold. We need to feel sad, upset or angry in order to feel empathy; without those emotions, we would never try to help others.

But is happiness a destination or the journey? How is it even quantified?

Joyce Kirabo, a Kigali-based counsellor, says that happiness is a diversified matter and it varies from person to person.

“What makes one happy might not make the other happy, however, it can’t be gauged on what one has or the riches they possess, happiness is mostly a state of mind and I suppose that it’s one’s choice to decide to be happy,” she says.

Kirabo believes that happiness can be a fulfilment of one’s desires or anything that brings joy to a person. However, it is not necessarily attached to individual interests, for example, one could be happy because a friend’s desires are fulfilled successfully.

A promotion at work is something many people hope for. Net.

Damien Mouzoun, a counsellor and CEO of Ayina Think Tank, is of the view that knowing who you are as a person is key in defining what real happiness is.

It is not having a fleet of cars, luxurious houses or massive wealth that defines happiness; you can have all this and still be miserable, he says.

Mouzoun points out that happiness shouldn’t be any rule but rather, individuals should be able to drive their own happiness. It shouldn’t be the gauge of how others see us but rather, what we want and who we want to be.

“We shouldn’t see happiness in terms of how much money we make or the kind of job we have, it should be something from within us such that whatever you earn, wherever you are, you are able to relate to the things you care about plus the principles and the values you have,” he says.

People should stop wanting to live the life of others, the counsellor says. This is a very crucial thing today because people wish to live the life of others but the person you are striving so hard to imitate could be having hardships that double yours.

One can find happiness even in single parenthood. Net

What’s your definition of happiness?

Patrick Uwimana, a volunteer at The sons of Kohra, defines happiness as a choice one makes to give themselves a peace of mind regardless of whatever they are experiencing.

“I don’t think there is anyone in this world that could be happy when they have no peace. I believe that where there is peace, there is security and together they bring happiness.”

Uwimana also says that one is never guaranteed of what will happen next in their lives and I think choosing to only see the good side of each aspect in one’s life is the best way of taking on life, that’s why he chose happiness.

Mary Ingabire, a student, believes that happiness is a state of mind that different people choose to have as a result of certain circumstances in life they might be satisfied with.

She says that having wealth and achieving certain things we want in life doesn’t guarantee happiness in our lives.

“We can have all we wish for and not be happy because having that can only be a little source of happiness because it sometimes goes beyond these things too, it’s within us,” she says.

Mass Communication student, Sheila Atukunda, thinks happiness is mostly the ability of controlling one’s emotions.

Life takes us through a rollercoaster of emotions depending on the circumstances we are facing, but choosing to be optimistic is one way of being happy, she says.

“Being happy is having positive emotions including joy, pride, commitment and gratitude.”

It’s important to be happy in a relationship. 

For Derrick Franz Dushime, happiness is more about having the ability to do whatever he loves, and it’s not even close to having money.

“Happiness is my family, my friends and the ability to be able to accomplish whatever I love at any time, far from having a lot of money though,” he says.

So, what is happiness for you? It could be reminiscing about good times with a friend while indulging in some fried chicken, or receiving a standing ovation at the end of a performance or speech. Someone else’s version of happiness may not be your cup of tea, but the stimulus for happiness is subjective and thus hard to measure objectively.

What is happiness to you?

Sheila Mutoni

Sheila Mutoni, Field enumerator

My definition of happiness is basic and self-focused; it’s about my values, passions and my purpose in life.

All this defines my happiness, in simple words, it states my true feelings, it includes everything required for me to be as happy as possibly or as I can.



Felix Kayihura, Lawyer

Felix Kayihura

The best way to define happiness is by defining what doesn’t make you happy.

However, happiness is not the same thing as pleasure.

Happiness is when your life fulfils your needs; it is that feeling of satisfaction even when things are not going smooth.

Vianney Muhawenimana, Stylist

Understanding what happiness is matters because it’s hard for one’s desires to be attained if they are not clear about exactly what it is that makes them happy.


Vianney Muhawenimana

But for me, happiness is when you get to understand that life is just as it is and not necessarily how you want it to be.

Jackline Mukabalisa, Office administrator

Happiness to me means letting go of all the baggage that life brings us and enjoying each moment as it is.

Being an optimistic person, even in trying times, to me, is what defines happiness.

Jackline Mukabalisa