What does it mean to be happy?

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Last Updated on 2nd July 2020 by Sophie Nadeau

If you’ve stumbled on this post, then chances are that you’re pondering the question ‘what does it mean to be happy?’ And while happiness tends to look a little or a lot different for everyone, there is a way to discover what truly makes you happy.

You see… Happiness is a funny thing. It comes and goes, fleeting and finite, as fickle as the switch of a light. But let me ask you something:

What would you do if you had one day left to live?

Cook dinner for your mum? Climb a mountain? Get drunk with your best friends? In all honesty, the answer isn’t that important. No? I hear you ask. Well, what is it then? The more important question is: if you’re not already doing what makes you happy, then why aren’t you doing it right now? What’s holding you back?

Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about the meaning of life. What does it mean to be happy? What is the most important thing I can be doing right now vs. what I should be doing right now?

Because, let’s face it, they’re not always the same thing.

Although it’s all well and good saying ‘if you don’t want something badly enough, then nothing will ever change,’ at the end of the day, is that even true? What’s probably more accurate is a fear of the unknown.

From an early age, we’re taught that the ideal is going to school, graduating from college, getting a job, getting married and having 2.7 kids. But do you really want 2.7 kids (and all that comes with it)? Because I’m starting to question whether I do…

Not wanting what everyone expects of you comes with an element of the unknown. And a certain fear. A fear that our parents won’t accept our hopes and dreams. A fear that our friends won’t accept our hopes and dreams. A fear that society won’t accept our hopes and dreams.

This fear often manifests itself in excuses. And life is full of potential excuses to put off the things that will truly make us happy. Let me give you an example; if you want to travel, then go: Oh, it’s too big a risk, Oh, I couldn’t possibly go travelling without my boyfriend, Oh it’s my sister’s wedding next month. I’m sure we’ve all used at least one of these excuses before.

There’s never a ‘perfect’ time to find your happiness. You have to make time.

I’m not trying to sound morbid… but the only guarantee we have in life is that we’ll die.

The worst part is that you’ll never know when it’s coming. It could be in 5 minutes, 5 months or in 50 years. Luckily, this is a blessing in disguise; how do you want to be remembered? What do you want the heading of your obituary to say?

Start living your happy today because today is all you’re really guaranteed.

What’s true for me will be different from any of you. So the following is about how I found what makes me happy:

Before I started travelling, I often wondered what I wanted out of life. What was it that really made me happy?

Then I took my first proper solo trip. Travelling was what made the world go around for me. It sounds so melodramatic… but that trip changed my life.

Now I know what I want: I want to have the most amazing travel stories. I want to have friends all over the world. I want to speak multiple languages. I want to stop fearing what may happen if I take a leap of faith.

I’ve written about it before and I’ll probably do so again. There are a million reasons I probably shouldn’t have gone on my first solo trip; I’d taken a year out of university due to illness and although (thankfully) I wasn’t critically ill, I was sleeping at least twelve hours a day and exhausted the majority of the time. I’m completely recovered now :).

After having my tonsils removed, I chalked up my entire life savings (barely $1500) to fund my trip. As I had initially planned to be away for just three months, I didn’t budget too well. Plus, being away wasn’t always easy; I went to hospital with not one, but two kidney infections.

My bank card was blocked on numerous occasions. I broke my phone. I lived in a mouse infested room (ew ew ew). I got lost on my own in a forest filled with moose and bears in the middle of a national park the size of Wales (sorry I never told you about that one, Mum).

When my initial three months were up and my bank account was drained, it didn’t seem enough just to hop back on a plane home (I had taken a year out of university and still had six months left, after all). I had also finally found what made me happy, travelling.

I found a job as a housekeeper, working in a resort in Northern Ontario; no wifi, no TV, no mobile phone signal and only one local radio station. I wrote a Facebook status (hey, I’m a millennial!) informing my friends that I would be uncontactable for at least the next three months. The next day, I was hopping on a bus from Toronto to travel up north in order to live in a wooden chalet.

Are you insane?’ ‘Maybe‘. I would be living with around 30 strangers, unable to contact anyone I knew. If I’m honest, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. However, I was just trying to work out what made me happy, the only way I knew how- taking a risk and diving in at the deep end.

Well, spoiler alert: the risk paid off and I spent a summer kayaking, canoeing, hiking and swimming in my free time. I also made a bunch of new friends and enough money to fund smaller weekend trips back in England (bonus).

Fear of the unknown is ultimately a good thing.

After all, what do we want most in the World?

To be happy.

What are YOU willing to sacrifice to achieve those dreams?

About Author

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, Paris, pizza, and history, though not necessarily in that order. A fan of all things France related, she runs when she's not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming her weight in sweet food. Currently based in Paris after studies in London, she's spent most of her life living in the beautiful Devonian countryside in South West England!


  • aika
    20th October 2016 at 2:08 pm

    I came acorss your blog by chance. Amazing photos, insights, stories from the heart. I wish I was as brave as you. I Love discovering different cultures, adventure sports, photography but quite scared to take that plunge and do only that – actually quite impossible. I’m in South Africa. Obstacles, visas..etc
    Stay awesome 😉

  • Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
    7th January 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Great post!:) Well said!

  • Mike Wilson
    23rd December 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Sounds like you had a great trip. Very courageous thing to do, nicely done!

  • Jessica
    15th December 2015 at 12:25 am

    I guess the fear of everything holds me back at times. The fear of judgement for people who are small minded and don’t know what the crap the im talking about. Its other peoples judgement that often withholds me to do what my heart tells me to do. And its taking time to change that, or to feel less influence by them 🙂 . Time to make decisions for yourself, and to not live for what might happen in 10 years, but for right now.
    Kudos to you for following your own heart!

  • Alain from Paris
    14th December 2015 at 10:08 am

    Oh! Just a word about this topic: i am just impressed by the way you speak about happiness, all of us in this world will never give an answer to this fondamental things because we will never meet what is this… I said “we” but I DID! I Know at least that my Life is what I did with. The final END Will come one day, as you said, in 5 mn or in one year, it is bécause I réalise this, that all my daily actions are based on this fear. SO now i leave this fear away and clean my Life of every bad smal things which destroyed the quality of my only one life i ever had, i change all my bad thought into good thinks because I know it Will stop one day… People do not réalised all of this, they tought they are happy bécause they have a job, à car, 2,7 part of child, 35 days of holidays per year, and they Will do all they want when they Will be retired at 62…
    FAULSE. They are wrong, and they don’t know that… Poor people.
    I hope you understand that i share your point of vue in my French frog english …
    Happily yours.


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