Beliefs about happiness have changed over the 5,000 years of written history and different beliefs have been common in different societies. Many philosophers have defined happiness as absence of pain. Aristotle thinks that:
Happiness is an activity involving both moral and intellectual virtue. Some external goods are necessary in order to exercise that activity. But happiness cannot be identified with pleasure, wealth, or honor—unlike what most people think.
Another way to think about happiness is in terms of Maslow's "hierarchy of needs." On the most basic level, we have physical needs and desires. It is difficult to be happy if one is sick or starving or cold, but being comfortable and enjoying physical sensations such as eating a favorite food or swimming in the ocean can be pleasant. On an emotional level, feeling physically threatened while living in a war zone or being in an abusive relationship can make you unhappy, while a positive family environment and a general feeling of security can increase your happiness. Most of us enjoy having friends and also enjoy successes at work or school.
Recent studies show interesting information about happiness. It tends to vary with age, with people in their late sixties and earlier seventies being the happiest. While people living in extreme poverty can be unhappy, money beyond what is necessary for comfort relative to the standards of one's community does not bring additional happiness. Experiences, such as travel, make us happier than possessions. Giving to charity and helping other people produces happiness while simply accumulating wealth does not. Religious people tend to be happier than people who are not religious.