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What is happiness?

It would be shortsighted to define happiness as a state of euphoria and glee. More accurately, happiness is the state of being content with one's life.

People who are not happy may be surprised to know that it is common for happy people to have bad days. Happy individuals accept that life will have both positives and negatives. Everyone faces loss. There is no escaping the ups and downs of life, such as births and deaths.

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Happy individuals are better able to enjoy what is good in their life and accept that not everything needs to be perfect in order for them to be content. Happiness ultimately is influenced by an individual's expectations and perceptions, including their environment and choices.

In 2013, Canada was ranked the third happiest place to live in the world. It was fifth in 2014. This happy ranking was determined by how citizens reported the degree of positive opportunities to experience peace, freedom, health care, quality education and a functioning political system

The research on Canada's place in the world is a reminder that things could be worse and that living in Canada is much better than many other places around the globe. However, when a person is under stress it is common for them to be focused on their own reality and the big picture. The Globe and Mail's Your Life at Work Study found that 60 per cent of participants reported high levels of stress in 2014.

Happiness is influenced by an individual's life choices. Whether someone is born with the personality attributes to be happy or they learn to be happy through positive life experiences and role models, every person is capable of improving their overall happiness or level of contentment.

Happiness is a state of being content but you don't need to be continually walking around with a smile on your face to be content. Each of us ultimately defines what we want and need to be content in our own lives.

Happiness can be simplistic. Watch any child on a playground. It doesn't take much for them to appear happy and content where they are.

Happy people are likely to be physically healthy and project hopefulness, enthusiasm and optimism, have supportive networks, and be effective at self-management. They tend to engage in positive diets and exercise, and avoid negative behaviours such as engaging in excessive alcohol use or overeating to feel better.

Researchers have found that 70 per cent to 80 per cent of all heart attacks are due to lifestyle choices and have nothing to do with genetics. This same line of research suggests that happy people are better equipped to cope with stress and make healthier choices than those who are unhappy.

The quest to improve your overall happiness is a proactive choice to help short-circuit the negative impact of life's stressors. One core of happiness is being open to appreciating what you already have in your life that is good – such as your health, a job, friends, love and a safe place to live.

Perhaps more important is being clear on what you want so you know when you get it you are in a position to acknowledge and accept it.

This month's quick survey that is part of the Your Life at Work study is a Happiness IQ. It will provide a benchmark of your current level of happiness.

Happy people have a purpose when they get up in the morning. They are satisfied with their life; they have loving and caring relationships; and they feel they are in a good place.

If you find yourself feeling not happy or content, acknowledge this fact and decide to do something about it. Doing nothing is a choice and will likely mean you remain unhappy. An unhappy person may not know it is possible to develop skills that can help them better cope and enjoy their day-to-day life.

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Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is president of Howatt HR Consulting in Kentville, N.S.

Take the Globe and Mail and Howatt HR's Your Life at Work Survey and find out your stress level. At the end will be the Stress Survey.

Find all our other stories and resources at tgam.ca/yourlifeatwork.

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If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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