General “Happiness” Quotes

On ‘Happiness’ As a Broken Concept

If you haven’t already, read the intro page to this section, where we break down the broken concept of ‘happiness’ here.

Well-being is complicated. People throw the word happiness around in a multitude of ways. Consider the truth and the detail in the quotes below.

  • “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Mohandas Gandhi
  • “When we speak of experiencing happiness, we need to know that there are actually two different kinds. The first is the enjoyment of pleasure through our senses. […] But we can also experience happiness at the deeper level through our mind, such as through love, compassion, and generosity. What characterizes happiness at this deeper level is the sense of fulfillment that you experience. While the joy of the senses is brief, the joy at this deeper level is much longer lasting. It is true joy.” – the Dalai Lama, The Book of Joy
  • “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” -John Lennon
  • “No mockery in the world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato.” – Charlotte Bronte, The Sunday Times, UK
  • “I actually detest the word ‘happiness,’ which is so overused that it has become almost meaningless. It is an unworkable term for science, or for any practical goal such as education, therapy, public policy, or just changing your personal life. The first step in positive psychology is to dissolve the monism of ‘happiness’ into more workable terms. Much more hangs on doing this well than a mere exercise in semantics.” – Martin Seligman, Flourish
  • “The decision to build a circus rather than a library based on how much additional happiness will be produced counts those capable of cheerful mood more heavily than those less capable. A theory that counts increases in engagement and meaning along with increases in positive emotion is morally liberating as well as more democratic for public policy.” – Martin Seligman, Flourish

On the Pursuit Paradox

Learn about the paradox of pursuing ‘happiness’ here.

  • “Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.” – Charles Dickens
  • “Happiness is as a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • “Every seeming end we seek — love, money, purpose, the perfect cappuccino — we seek as a means to happiness, and yet happiness defies the usual laws of effort and achievement: The more ferociously we try to attain it, the more it eludes us.” – Agnes Martin
  • “Positive psychology makes people happier. Teaching positive psychology, researching positive psychology, using positive psychology in practice as a coach or therapist, giving positive psychology exercises to tenth graders in a classroom, parenting little kids with positive psychology, teaching drill sergeants how to teach about post-traumatic growth, meeting with other positive psychologists, and just reading about positive psychology all MAKE PEOPLE HAPPIER. The people who work in positive psychology are the people with the highest well-being I have ever known.” – Martin Seligman, Flourish
  • “The great Western disease is, ‘I’ll be happy when […] When I get the money. When I get a BMW. When I get this job.’Well, the reality is, you never get to when. The only way to find happiness is to understand that happiness is not out there. It’s in here. And happiness is not next week. It’s now.” – Marshall Goldsmith, Ph.D.
  • “My opinion is that you never find happiness until you stop looking for it.” – Chang Tzu

  • “Happiness is pervasive. It is everywhere… When we are unhappy it is because something is covering our minds and we are not able to be aware of happiness. When the difficulty is past we find happiness again. It is not that happiness is all around us. That is not it at all. It is not this or that or in this or that. It is an abstract thing. Happiness is unattached. Always the same. It does not appear and disappear. It is not sometimes more and sometimes less. It is our awareness of happiness that goes up and down. Happiness is our real condition.” – Agnes Martin, Paintings, Writings, Remembrances

On Ephemeral Pleasures

Ephemeral Pleasures are our first Element of Well-Being.
Pleasure is complicated and powerful. It can drive our every motivation, it can be a spice of life, and it can distract us from our deeper pursuits. Read the page to learn more.

On the Power of Pleasures

  • “We are nourished by novelty. Too much sameness and the world goes gray.” – Melissa Kirsch, New York Times
  • “My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.” – Thornton Wilder
  • “Emotions cause motion; they provide a motive that drives our action. The very language we use suggests an essential truth — that emotion, motion, and motivation are intimately linked.” – Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier

On the Irony of Ephemeral Pleasures

  • “Whoever dies with the most toys wins” — bumper sticker
  • “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” – Socrates
  • “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” – Henry David Thoreau
  • “Possessions are usually diminished by possession.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
  • “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” – Anonymous
  • “Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.” – Roger Corless
  • “If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.” -Oprah Winfrey
  • “On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

On the Limits of Ephemeral Pleasures

  • “The pleasures, both bodily and higher, have a uniform and peculiar set of properties that limit their usefulness as sources of lasting happiness. By definition, of course, they are evanescent, and they usually have a sudden end.” –Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness
  • “When you are joyful and happy at the mental level, physical pain doesn’t matter very much. But if there is no joy or happiness at the mental level, too much worrying, too much fear, then even physical comforts and pleasure will not soothe your mental discomfort.” – the Dalai Lama
  • “Having your back scratched satisfies an itch, but quite remarkably it also causes more itching when you stop. This itch grows in urgency for a time, and can be relieved by the next scratch. But that scratch sets up the next itch and the cycle continues. If you grind your teeth and wait, the itch will fade, but the craving for the next relieving scratch usually overcomes your will power. This is how a coughing jag, salted peanuts, smoking, and French vanilla ice cream all work.” –Martin Seligman, “Authentic Happiness
  • “Money and girls is like a black hole, I feel like there is never enough.” “A lot of these things I recognize, but I still keep **** doing them. I realize that chasing money and girls is not what makes you happy, but I still do it.” – Dan Blizerian
  • “When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” – Viktor Frankl
  • “Feeling cheerful or merry is a far cry from what Thomas Jefferson declared that we have the right to pursue.” – Martin Seligman, Flourish

On Flow & Engagement

Flow and Engagement is our second Element of Well-Being. More than simply pleasure, flow is like an optimal state of being that really pulls you in. It can be where you thrive, and it can even be a deep distraction. Check out the page to learn more about Flow & Engagement.

A definition of Flow:
“A state of intense absorption and involvement with the present moment. […] In flow we are in control of our psychic energy, and everything we do adds order to consciousness. […] When the information that keeps coming into awareness is congruent with goals, psychic energy flows effortlessly. There is no need to worry, no reason to question one’s adequacy. But whenever one does stop to think about oneself, the evidence is encouraging: ‘You are doing all right.’ The positive feedback strengthens the self, and more attention is freed to deal with the outer and the inner environment.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

  • “Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” – Susan Ertz
  • “The river is everywhere.” – Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
  • “As children we are taught not to play with fire, not how to play with fire.” – Steven Kotler, The Rise of Superman
  • “The experience of flow leads us to be involved in life (rather than be alienated from it), to enjoy activities (rather than to find them dreary), to have a sense of control (rather than helplessness), and to feel a strong sense of self (rather than unworthiness). All these factors imbue life with meaning and lend it a richness and intensity. And happiness.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness
  • “I go into flow playing bridge, but after a long tournament, when I look in the mirror, I worry that I am merely fidgeting until I die.” – Martin Seligman, Flourish
  • “Avoiding thoughts and contemplation compromises our capacity to lead a full and fulfilling life.” – Tal Ben-Shahar, Happiness Studies

  • “Because attention determines what will or will not appear in consciousness, and because it is also required to make any other mental events–such as remembering, thinking, feeling, and making decisions–happen there, it is useful to think of it as psychic energy. Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we invest this energy. Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it. And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we please; hence attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.” – from Flow

On Perspective

Perspective is our third Element of Well-Being. It is like a meta-element. It is the context, framing, and state of mind that is involved in every experience, and it alone can be the difference between bliss and languishing. Check out the page to learn more about Perspective.

On the Mind and Attention

  • “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • “We are shaped by our thoughts. We become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha
  • “The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention.” – Sharon Salzberg
  • “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” – Herbert Simon, economist

On Choice, Responsibility, and Stories

  • “Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but that doesn’t make you who you are. It is the rest of your story – who you choose to be.” – Kung Fu Panda
  • “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor E. Frankl
  • “Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • “A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside,’ just by changing the contents of consciousness. We all know individuals who can transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of their personalities. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so; it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well. To develop this trait, one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. It is best not to expect shortcuts will do the trick.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow
  • “We take greater pains to persuade others we are happy than in trying to think so ourselves.” – Confucius
  • “Taking personal responsibility means never blaming someone else or the circumstances for how you feel. It means figuring out ways to be happy despite others’ actions and despite the external circumstances.” – Raj Raghunathan, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?

Take a look at how our concepts of self, identity, and reality mix to create our lived experience:

See a framework for taking radical responsibility over your experiences:

A directory of concepts focused around mental freedom:

On the Irony of Perspective

  • “Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness” – Lao Tzu
  • “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – Dale Carnegie
  • “If you want to be happy, be.” – Leo Tolstoy

On Presence

  • “Do your best to take time to notice, feel and appreciate your way through every texture of the circumstances you are in,” – Alfred James
  • “Life is accessible only in the present moment.” – Buddha
  • “At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

On the Power of Perspective

  • “Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” – Groucho Marx
  • “The wider perspective leads to serenity and equanimity. It does not mean we don’t have the strength to confront a problem, but we can confront it with creativity and compassion rather than rigidity and reactivity.” – The Dalai Lama
  • “The mind is its own place,
    And in itself can make
    A Heav’n of Hell,
    Or a Hell of Heav’n.” – John Milton
  • “The degree to which our lives can be changed by the transformation of a mere idea into a belief is truly unparalleled.” – Alex Lickerman, The 10 Worlds
  • “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could, some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We have a wide (and visual) directory of Perspective tools on the below page. Go check it out!

On Meaning

Meaning is our fourth and most important Element of Well-Being. Too easily overlooked, it is the key to a well-lived life. It is made up of 4 Cornerstones: Discovery, Love, Service, and Expression.
Purpose, like meaning in action, is another helpful section full of lessons on living to the fullest.

On the Depth and Importance of Meaning

  • “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” – The Dalai Lama
  • “I used to think that the topic of positive psychology was happiness, that the gold standard for measuring happiness was life satisfaction, and that the goal of positive psychology was to increase life satisfaction. I now think that the topic of positive psychology is well-being, that the gold standard for measuring well-being is flourishing, and that the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing.” – Martin Seligman, Flourish
  • “Human beings, ineluctably, want meaning and purpose in life.” – Martin Seligman, Flourish
  • “The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of life, but that it bothers him less and less.” – Vaclav Havel
  • “A sailboat without a sail might float. For a long time, in fact. But without a sail, it can’t go anywhere, can’t fulfill its function. Floating is insufficient.” – Seth Godin
  • “It is time for mainstream psychology to catch up with the struggles of the majority of humanity that is searching for ways to make life meaningful.” – Corey Keyes and Jonathan Haidt, Flourishing
  • “[…] it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

  • “Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.” – John Gardner, Self-Renewal
  • “It’s a secret of Adulthood: Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy.” – Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
  • “Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed, or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided […] If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need. While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. […] Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy.” – Roy Baumeister, Stanford Business

On Relationships

Strong positive relationships, like friendships and family, are the number 1 predictor of subjective well-being. You can learn more about every kind of relationship from our Love cornerstone.

  • “Any time you prioritize the socioemotional components of life, you become happier […] This shift is so common, and is backed by so much empirical support, it’s been christened with its own tediously academic title: socioemotional selectivity theory.” – John Medina, Brain Rules for Aging Well
  • “The world encourages us to ‘love things and use people.’ Instead, put this on your fridge and try to live by it: ‘Love people; use things.’” – Arthur Brooks
  • “Other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up. […] We scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.²⁰” Martin Seligman, Flourish
  • “No one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbor, if you would live for yourself.” – Seneca

  • “Husband, Wife, Partner, Friend, Co-worker, Child, Mother, Father, Sibling, Brother, Sister . . . these are the one-word descriptions that tell the stories of our lives. When we come together as family, as friends, as lovers, we become more than the sum of our parts. We’re the most successful of all the animals on the planet, because we’re the most social. And that’s why each of us is inextricably bound to others. In the end, those social connections, those bonds, are what it is all about. When they are strong, we’re happy. When they are threatened, we worry. When they disappear, we suffer. In many ways, navigating the social world is more complicated than a voyage to the moon. It’s a journey we have to take, because whether we like it or not, our happiness is in each other’s hands.…” – Dr. Daniel Gilbert, Harvard Psychologist Author of Stumbling on Happiness
  • “Happiness is a perfume which you cannot pour on someone without getting some on yourself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” -Robert Louis Stevenson
  • “The world is full of retail clerks, coupon sorters, accountants, and students. It is full of highway flaggers, parents, government bureaucrats, and bartenders. And it is full of nurses, teachers, and clergy who get bogged down in paperwork and other day-to-day tasks, and sometimes lose sight of their broader mission. yet no matter what occupies our days, when we reframe our tasks as opportunities to help others, our lives and our work feel more significant. Each of us has a circle of people—in our families, in our communities, and at work—whose lives we can improve. That’s a legacy everyone can leave behind.” – Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning