Can Happiness Be Cultivated?

By Troy Headrick

I’ve been writing about happiness recently.  This is the third (and final) installment in a series of pieces on this subject.  The first installment can be found here and second one, here.

While prepping myself to write this, I began to think of analogies.  Can happiness be cultivated in the same way a farmer prepares for a good harvest?  Think about it; a bumper crop doesn’t just happen by accident.  Of course, there are things (like weather) that are beyond the farmer’s control.  Even so, he has much power to affect the outcome of his efforts.

For example, if he studies agriculture, he can learn what sorts of crops grow best where he lives.  He can find out the right times to plant and how much water and fertilizer to use.  If he learns and uses his learning wisely, he can know the most optimal time to reap what he has sown and what methods work best to get the food out of the field and to the consumer.  In other words, the farmer has within his power the ability to create the conditions that make it more likely he’s going to have a productive growing season.

We sometimes think that happiness just happens “to” us, and we are right to see things this way.  There are instances when we can experience it without any sort of effort.  In the first piece I wrote on this subject, I described such an evening.  I didn’t start out that night hoping or trying to be happy.  Happiness just happened, rather unexpectedly, for a few different reasons, some of which I wrote about in that blog and the one that followed it.

I’d like to think more about intentionality in this piece.  The successful farmer is very intentional in the way he approaches farming—he doesn’t just blunder into a good crop.  Can people approach happiness in this way too?  Can we very deliberately create the conditions that make it more likely we’ll experience happiness (or blissfulness or peacefulness or whatever word you want to use to capture the essence of this wonderful feeling)?

To answer this question, I thought about happy times I’d had in the recent past.  I wanted to see if they had anything in common, if I could draw any insights from those moments that could be used to form a hypothesis.  Here’s what I noticed.

In almost every instance, at least one of the following things was true:

  • I was where I most wanted to be
  • I was with the person or people I most wanted to be with
  • I was doing what I most wanted to do at the time

The ideal conditions for experiencing happiness would be to have all three of these things present.  If such a scenario occurs, a near perfect context has been created.  Such a context makes it far more likely that a person can experience pleasure or happiness because the conditions are favorable.  Conversely, it’s harder (but not impossible) to have a good time or be happy if these conditions are not met or present.

I am playing with my new where/who/what theory of happiness.  Can I use it to make short-term and long-term plans?  It’s certainly worth thinking about.

What do you think of my theory?  I look forward to your insights, words of wisdom, and critiques.  Thanks for reading!

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

If you’d like to see some of Troy’s art, have a look.

32 thoughts on “Can Happiness Be Cultivated?

  1. Your idea about making conscious efforts to be happy is very unique and interesting for me. We rarely think it this way. Perhaps the happiness that we achieve through conscious efforts is long lasting than the accidental/unexpected happiness. Because after unaccepted happiness, happy moments do not hold their sweetness for so long and we tend to look for another high for us. How about we make efforts and then savour those happy moments. By this point, I know I am rambling but I hope you get my point. 😃
    Have a good day!

    1. Hi, Saliha Waseem! I definitely get your point, and I didn’t think you were rambling in your comment. I suppose I was attempting to come up with a method that could be used to create the conditions that would make it more likely that happiness could occur. Of course, this was a speculative piece. I mostly wanted to start a conversation about happiness and to see if people thought that such an approach might yield fruit. Thanks for the comment.

  2. For me, happiness is more of a perspective than an actual feeling. Yes, we can feel angry, sad, guilty, offended very easily. Maybe negative emotions come without much effort. Surprise and shock also figure on the list. But happiness can be spontaneous and also achievable. It depends on how we look at the situation. And it’s rare that we’ll always find ideal conditions like you have mentioned. I correlate happiness to peace and satisfaction. If I’m able to pass my day with both by my side in some way, then I’m happy. It’s when we give happiness a specific face or definition that we are asking for large portions of disappointment and a feeling of discontentment. Joy is all around us. No shape or specific figure. Can we find it? It depends on us.
    Thanks for sharing this. And I hope you have a great weekend, Troy. 🙂

    1. Thank you. I hope you have a nice weekend too. I dealt with some of the points you make here in the previous two blogs on happiness, the ones I linked to in my piece. In those earlier pieces, I talked more about “accidental” happiness, so I wanted to see if I could take a more intentional approach here. Happiness, as you say, is sort of hard to define. We know we’re experiencing it when it happens. And, yes, it often does “depend on us.”

  3. I will take marriage as an example.
    If you chose your partner consciously, I think it’s possible grounds for achieving happiness.
    It doesn’t mean there won’t be hard times…I mean, we all know marriage but I would like to think, taking the time to choose your life partner would be a step in the right direction for happiness long term.

    1. Yes! Yes, Jermena! You’ve gotten the point I was trying to make in my piece (and said it better than I said it). I want to see if we can consciously create conditions that can make it more likely that happiness can be experienced. The conditions I talked about in no way guarantee happiness. But can they improve our chances for feeling it or experiencing it? Well, in my case, I noticed an interesting pattern. So love and marriage and such can be approached in the same way as you point out. Thanks so much for leaving such an intelligent comment.

  4. I want to share my views on what is happiness to me. Happiness is obtained from magnifying the gap between one thought to another. And is never a by product of buying or acquiring material objects. The thoughts are important attribute in deciding the outcomes. When living beings contribute to something that will bring about more joy will irrevocably result in more happiness. The monotony of life and lukewarm experiences is refreshed by moments of happiness. And further happiness is always invoked by the nurturing and reaction to certain situation. Experiential happiness is dependant on the external desires and is temporary pleasures. Therefore the less conditions we need to be happy and content, the happier we are.

    1. I totally agree that we should avoid trying to “acquire” happiness by buying things. Your comment is full of nuggets of wisdom. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks so much for leaving such a profound comment.

  5. I’m going to take a slightly different approach to what happiness is and why it happens. Like Tarveen said above, happiness is a perspective. I believe you have to have the right mental attitude to see and enjoy when happiness shows up. There are people who no matter what good comes, can only see bad. This would be a person who cannot see happiness if it slapped them in the face. Also, a good sense of humor will help happiness show up. This is not meant to be ha ha humor but, someone who can sort through the bad a find the good in any given situation. This type of person can find happiness quite often. Thank you for the post and for helping me think on this subject.

    1. I love your point about the necessity of having a good sense of humor. There’s nothing more joyful than enjoying a good laugh. I would add that it’s important that a person cultivate the ability to be self-deprecating–to be able to laugh at himself. Your attitudinal approach to understanding happiness is certainly one I agree with. Thanks so much!

  6. I like the idea of the cultivation of happiness as a farmer does with his crops.

    I have even started to toy with the analogy in real life and have started gardening . While gardening, it feels as if I’m working towards my happiness as well as improving my gardening skills.

    Happiness for me, using the farming analogy is putting in the work to enable the crop to rise from nothingness to something favorable or me gaining a lesson in understanding soil types, ph levels of soil and water, the time of year and fertilizers.

    I feel as if a good outcome is almost a must.

    Here, my application of what is ‘good’ is whether a healthy crop seeps from the ground or the learning to be applied.

    If the plant withers, then I’m left with some learning on how to improve my happiness levels.

    1. Hi, Transformative Questions. Often, we can just wait for things to happen; we have to put things in place, set the stage, be proactive, however you want to think of it. I like your emphasis on learning. We often don’t succeed the first time, but it we look at “failure” as an opportunity to learn, then we can’t go wrong. Thanks so much for leaving such an interesting comment.

  7. I have come to the whole “happiness” party from a different place. I had actually reached a point in my life where I felt I didn’t deserve to breathe the air or to walk the earth, and felt that happiness would be impossible for me to experience. Since I wished to help myself heal from living with anxiety and depression, I started a journey of diving deep into the causes of my experiencing these emotions.

    I found that I had sustained inner damage from abuse and had internalized all the negative messages so they became my inner reality, and were the cause of my self-sabotage. The journey was long and gut wrenching, but having come through it I found I was able to DEVELOP happiness!

    This has now become my mission to share through my books and blog posts the secrets I learned from that process!

    Yes, developing happiness is possible, it just takes a lot of mindful work and persistence!

    Blessings to all!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s one that many of us can relate to. Lots of folks never learn how to do the deep dive that you mentioned in your comment. So that makes you a special person–to be able to be open enough to turn inward, to make self-discoveries of the sort you talk about. Like you, I think happiness is possible. There are many paths leading there. I really liked your comment!

  8. That is quite an interesting post. Just recently I too have posted somewhat related to it.
    But your perspective for approaching happiness is appreciable.
    There are and will always be bad days, but it is what it is. This is life. what do you expect? Just be a happy survivor.

  9. I think that yes, those conditions you mentioned would work. But also, if we set our minds to being positive rather than negative, to choosing happiness over misery, would eventually, could eventually become a lifestyle. It doesn’t just have to be when we’re enjoying the things and people we like or enjoy. That’s motivated by selfishness. Because not everything revolves around us. There have been plenty of times when I’ve been at work, when I didn’t want to, but I still had a great day. I’ve been able to positively affect others, and the reverse is also true.

  10. Troy, a very thoughtful, helpful post! <3

    My sister, who retired a couple of years ago, has been on a never-ending quest for the perfect retirement home. She has looked at some properties online and in-person near where she used to live or went on vacation.

    Recently, she came to the realization that the reason she liked some of the many places she has lived before is not because of the places themselves, but because of the happy memories she made there. I am not sure how this will affect her approach in the future.

    As you mention in this post, Troy, she was with people she wanted to be with and doing things she wanted to do. That is why she has nostalgia for certain places. That certainly does not mean she would be happy in those places now. Maybe she will stop looking at off-grid goat farms on the side of a mountain and deconsecrated churches in dying industrial towns now! 🙂

  11. For most of my life I looked outside of myself for happiness but it wasn’t until recently (I’m 51 years old) that I started saying that happiness is a choice! Everyday I have a choice and work at choosing happiness

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