Ancient Greek and early Christian writers first described different levels of emotion long ago.
Firstly, there is an immediate feeling, triggered by noticing something: something within, such as a new thought or memory, or something external, an event of some kind. This most fleeting type of happiness, we also call 'joy'.
The second level of emotion involves background mood, which lasts for more than just a few instants. Moods are often more complex than brief emotional experiences. To understand them better, we need to look at a basic range of emotions. It works like a color spectrum or musical scale with two complementary sides: painful and pain-free.
Spectrum of Emotions
Painful Pain Free
Wanting (desire/dislike) Satisfaction (contentment)
Anger Acceptance (non anger)
Guilt Innocence (purity)
Note how emotional pain begins with wanting things to be different somehow, with desire and dislikes. Love, Healing and Happiness describes how natural healing processes take us from desire and dislike to joy, and progress towards more lasting happiness and contentment.
This is the third level of emotions, referring to a more lasting personal disposition.
It is often easier to spot these things in others. "She is always cheerful", we might think, or, "He is usually grumpy and resentful". The difference between the second and third levels is partly one of duration. The third level also reflects something of an individual’s personality, but it is still possible for a person of normally happy and positive disposition to suffer a painful mood for a period of hours or days.
Some people also refer to a fourth level of emotion relating to how we think about ourselves, our overall reaction to our lives as they unfold. It is a matter of personal judgment. Phrases like, "I am happy (content) with it", or, "I am unhappy (discontent) with it", provide the most general alternatives. This is called 'social' happiness, because it involves awareness of other people as we tend to compare ourselves with those better or worse off than we think we are.
To summarize, the word 'happiness' can be thought of as having four related meanings. Firstly, happiness reflects the immediacy of joy, momentarily filling our minds. Secondly, happiness refers to a more prevailing mood, often including feelings of calm and clarity, also the absence of anger or any of the other painful emotions. Thirdly, happiness relates to a more enduring attitude of placid and joyful contentment (summed up in the word, ‘equanimity’) according to which, good feelings predominate over bad ones. Fourthly, happiness also refers to the thoughts a person has when reflecting on his or her life. To be happy with one’s life again reflects a degree of contentment.
Finally, there is a fifth level of meaning of the word "happiness".
This is better understood if we use the word, "bliss".
Like joy, bliss is an immediate and total experience. It fills conscious awareness, but with great intensity and often for much longer than fleeting joy, for minutes or even for days. Rather than a reaction to inner thoughts or external events, it is a rapturous response to the sacred wholeness of creation, suddenly perceived in its totality and perfection. This is a rare experience (but not as rare and unattainable as many people suppose). It is important because blissful rapture is often profoundly trans-formative, resetting the emotional mechanism and marking a big step away from the painful towards the pain-free.
There is no equivalent sensation for any of the painful emotions. Bliss leads not only to emotional healing, growth and maturity, but also – as Larry explains in his remarkable book – to spiritual development and wisdom, to a better experience and understanding of love, and so to a better future, a better life. We do not normally reach it all at once but in gradual stages, and we can learn what to do (and what to avoid doing) to make progress on this path. Everyone benefits when we do. When you understand how it works, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is what we must do. It is what our lives are for. The road to happiness-at each of these five levels – is what gives human life its true meaning.