History Has Never Agreed On A True Definition Of 'Happiness'
If you've read a meme on your cousin's Facebook wall recently, it probably had something to do with "finding happiness." The broad advice usually involves taking charge of your life and heading toward the flaming sun of joy, or not getting discouraged by setbacks and haters. Really, any advice works as long as the text is on top of a vague, nature-y stuff. But the general idea that "happiness" is a static, achievable goal that we're always working toward hasn't been in place forever.
On the contrary, historian Darrin McMahon studied what people defined as "happiness" over a timeline of thousands of years, and discovered that it has changed many, many times. The Greeks assumed that you were happy because you were lucky, since fate was controlled by the gods. So to them, being "happy" meant that you were fortunate enough to have Zeus as your lightning-throwing cheerleader.
Philosophers who lived around the same time as Aristotle correlated "virtue" with happiness; the more doors you opened for old ladies, the happier you'd be.
Christians in the Middle Ages saw happiness as something you "got" when you made it to Heaven. The Renaissance delivered to us the idea that pleasure and happiness were linked. The Enlightenment taught people that being happy was a human right, which directly conflicts with the Greek idea of "Better hope Mount Olympus likes you, loser." Overall, while it's difficult to see in a single time period, what we define as "true happiness" is a nebulous concept that will probably change in the next few hundred years. At which point we'll inevitably go back to wondering if we'll get a good harvest because a thunder deity likes our haircut.
But you know who's really happy? Pharrell.
Support Cracked's journalism with a visit to our Contribution Page. Please and thank you.
It would make us very happy if you followed us on Facebook.