When we think about our life, remember the good and the bad, consider the story it has presented so far, we deal with the "attitude" view/level of happiness. It’s where we say that we are feeling pretty happy with our lives – or not, of course. Clearly, this is something different from pure and simple joy. With thought, things get much more complicated. We start, for example, to compare ourselves to others, to set reference points in the judgment of our life – whether they are what is important to us personally, important in society’s judgment, or any other perspective. We also, depending on personality and present mood, think about our life story very differently. Some people emphasize the high points, some ponder the lows; some may have had higher aspirations and be rather discontent although they achieved a lot. That way, maybe having low aspirations is a good way to be happy with one’s life. Then again, research has shown that we typically regret the things we did not do, rather than the challenges we took up and maybe failed in. In thinking about our happiness with life, we tell our personal life story; we do not immediately experience this happiness anymore, but remember and interpret.
The way this type of happiness interacts with our stories about life is particularly important: if we subscribe to the view that life is about nothing more but our personal fun, or the amount in our bank account, then it is quite possible to be happy with the course of one’s life if only these things are fulfilled. Not least in comparing different cultures, we find that the orientation towards individual, family and society differs widely. Hence, whether your attitude is that you need only be concerned with the quality of your own life, that of your close kin, or maybe your personal impact on the future course of humanity, will vary – and so will the focus you use to judge your contentment.