Blog Short #36: What’s the real source of happiness?
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
The pursuit of happiness is an integral part of being human. We all want it, and all pursue it. Even the most psychopathic person is pursuing what gives him a sense of pleasure, although in a very twisted and dark way.
The question that arises is:
“What is happiness, and how do we get it?”
This question is and always has been a perennial subject of conversation for philosophers, psychologists, religious leaders, and thinkers of all kinds.
One answer comes from the field of Positive Psychology, and it’s the one I want to talk about today, because it gives us a way to narrow it down to things we can do to create real happiness for ourselves.
Two kinds of happiness.
The first basic premise is that there are two kinds of happiness, and the sources for each are different. Mostly we pursue some of each, although we lean more one way or the other. The two types are:
Eudaimonia was a term used by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics in which he described the good life as one in which we develop our innate potentialities and abilities, and engage in striving to realize them. He saw this drive as our “freedom to flourish,” and a source of personal satisfaction.
Eudaimonic happiness is based not on moment to moment elevation of mood, but rather on the pursuit of long-term goals that are motivated by intrinsic values and inspiration. The impetus for exploring life comes from an internal push toward personal growth and seeking challenges that provide purpose and meaning.
In a nutshell:
We pursue connection and intimacy, self-actualization, contribution, learning, and the expression of our deepest values, potentialities, and aspirations.
Hedonia is associated with pleasure and extrinsic motivation.
As pleasure, happiness comes from our moment to moment enjoyment of activities that provide entertainment, comfort, relaxation, and sometimes stimulation. These activities are mood elevating, albeit temporary.
We plop down in front of the TV and watch a favorite show, or go out for dinner, or take a swim in the pool, or cozy up in bed and read a novel.
We might also pursue bigger extrinsic goals such as the accumulation of wealth, status and possessions.
Our sense of self is reliant on external feedback, and the drive to be authentic gives way to the need for approval and often narcissistic gains and confirmation.
Which is better?
Eudaimonic happiness of course!
So how do we achieve it?
In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman spells it out. He explains that real happiness comes from the development of character which he defines in terms of “virtues and strengths”. He outlines 6 primary virtues and 24 character strengths, known as the “classification of strengths,” (Seligman and Peterson).
Virtues are the core values, and character strengths are the routes by which virtues are achieved and expressed.
An example of a virtue is Wisdom and Knowledge. The strengths aligned with this virtue are love of learning, judgment, curiosity, creativity, and having a sense of perspective. (For the full list of virtues and strengths, click here.)
What Seligman says is that we are most happy when we:
- Step into and sense being our true selves
- Feel that we’re doing the right thing
- Are invigorated and enthusiastic
- Learn and apply new skills
- Engage in close reciprocal relationships where we display empathy and kindness
- Face real challenges and overcome obstacles
- Seek meaning and purpose
All of these characteristics are eudaimonic pursuits.
This doesn’t mean that hedonistic pursuits are all bad. Certainly not, and all of us usually pursue both kinds of happiness. Hedonistic pleasures can supply a needed respite sometimes to soothe and relax us.
The problem arises when hedonistic pursuits are dominant, as well as self-destructive. Over-indulgence can lead to depression, addiction, loss of control, and emptiness.
Sitting in the hot-tub to soothe aching muscles and distract your mind from stress is a good relaxer. Binge drinking and chronic overeating give you temporary pleasure followed by depression and ill health.
Hedonistic pursuits are sometimes used as a means to avoid dealing with problems or issues that need attention, and left unattended, become worse.
Here’s the takeaway.
To pursue real happiness, focus on developing your strengths (see the handout), engaging in behavior that adds to your good character, and finding meaning and purpose in what you do.
Start by asking these questions:
- What are my top three (or more) interests?
- What would I like to learn more about?
- If I could have any job I wanted, or work in any field, what would it be?
- How could I improve my relationships? With whom?
- Where do I need more self-control, and what would that look like?
- How can I show myself more love as well as others?
- Where and under what circumstances can I most express my highest self?
- What activities that I pursue for pleasure are good for me, and which ones need to go?
- How can I take better care of myself?
The goal of these questions is to turn your attention inward and to start thinking more about what motivates you from the inside out. What can lead you to a greater expression of your potentialities and talents? What are you curious about that you’d like to pursue?
The secondary goal is to focus on building upon your character. What internal changes can you make in your dealings with yourself and others that will provide connection and meaning in your life?
Start by making sure that every day you do at least one thing that’s in the eudaimonia camp – one thing that contributes to your overall sense of purpose and meaning. Or if you’re not sure what that is, do some small thing that provides some sense of growth or moves you toward a goal.
Just showing kindness to someone is a step in that direction. Reading about something you’re interested in knowing more about; making a healthy meal for yourself; having a meaningful discussion with a friend. Any of these are steps in the right direction.
To aid you with this project, click on this link which will take you to a website called viacharacter.org where you can sign up to take a free survey that identifies which of the 24 character strengths you are strong in, and which need some work. It’s a fast, easy test to take and gives you some good information to work from. It’s free!
You can also find the test in Authentic Happiness if you’d rather read the book.
That’s all for today!
As always, I hope you have a great week!
All my best,