Wednesday, February 28, 2018

3 Types of Happiness

Happiness ......we spend so much time pursuing it, talking about it, asking "Am I happy?", justifying our decisions under the "I just want to be happy" banner, but how many of us actually can define it?  It is usually not given a lot of thought beyond, "I'll just know it when I see it."

Well, this lack of defining leads to a lack of planning, which leads to wasting a lot of time spinning your wheels, not getting any happier, or bemoaning your circumstances.  Last week we went over why your circumstances aren't likely the source of your unhappiness (How Your Circumstances Influence Your Happiness. )

It's really hard to find something if you don't know what it looks like.  Once you know what it looks like, then you really do know it when you see it, and you have a better shot at finding it.

So what is happiness?

Of course for each person, the stuff that makes up happiness, the ingredients if you will, will look different.  "Experts" (people who study happiness for a living) general agree that there are three levels of happiness.

Level one, simple pleasures or gratification.  

This is the weekly massage, indulging in a Netflix binge, eating the warm gooey chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven, the awesome spa vacation, falling in love, or whatever else brings you pleasure.  Anything that makes life pleasurable, enjoyable, worth living.

The problems is, as humans we are very adaptable.  Obviously this is a good thing as it helps ensure survival of the human race, but it also means that we get used to the things that give us pleasure relatively quickly, so we are constantly in search of that next high, and this can lead to addictive type behavior if we are not careful.  That one cookie turns into 24.  That glass of wine turns into the bottle every night.  We fall in love with falling in love and that maybe leads us to some not so healthy relationships.  Or sometimes we go the other way, and get so busy and so into our routines that we no longer notice the beauty and wonder that surrounds us and could bring us pleasure.

Ways to combat this habituation is to practice mindfulness, really savoring the moment, and practicing gratitude.  So, when you are at your child's school event, put down the phone every once in a while and really notice the details, and savor this fleeting moment.  What are they wearing? Notice the range of emotions that flicker across their face.  How do they interact with their peers? What is their favorite part of the moment? Take it ALL in, not just what fits on your iphone screen. Likewise, if you are going to have the chocolate, relish slowly peeling the foil back.  Smell it.  Let it slowly dissolve on your tongue and enjoy every. single. second. of that delicious experience.

So - level one definitely has it's place.  It is part of what makes life enjoyable.  Find ways to include more pleasures into your life, drink your coffee out of your special cup, take a different route to work, read the trashy novel or the literary masterpiece if that's what makes you happy.  Also, shake things up so you don't fall into a rut even if it is a simple as taking a different route to work or going to a new Starbucks instead of your usual.  Make time to really enjoy a moment and practice turning ordinary moments into extraordinary moments (this also exercises your creativity which will also boost your happiness.) . Notice I said "practice".  You will need to practice to get good at this.

Level Two, the Good Life.  

This is where you are using your strengths and virtues as often as possible.  This could be in your job or it could be a hobby that challenges you, but ideally it is both.  You won't necessarily feel a surge of happiness while you are engaging in the activity.  In fact, you aren't likely to be thinking about anything because you are so engaged and lost in the moment that you are not thinking at all.  This is called a state of flow.  It is when you become so absorbed in a project or activity that you forget yourself.  You have just solved a thorny issue or negotiated a critical deal. Maybe it is a hobby that really calls for your whole concentration like song writing or composing, playing a chess with a worthy opponent, or running. Maybe it is using your excellent organization skills to bring working order to a bookshelf or closet. It is you doing your thing to the best of your ability.  It is whatever calls for complete concentration, but not so hard it is frustrating (because that would be distracting).

That's the good life and it helps protect you from "bad" moments, builds your confidence in yourself and helps you express your uniqueness.

If you are curious to know what your top 5 strengths are, visit this website: (Under "Questionnaires", choose "VIA Survey of Character Strengths"). You can take a quiz that will tell you out of 24 defined virtues or strengths, what your top 5 are.  Then you find thing that allow you to use your top 5 as much as possible.  There is also one for kids, but I recommend that your child be at least 8 before taking it.

Level Three, the Meaningful Life.  

Using your signature strengths in the service of something greater than yourself is the meaningful life.  Some people find this outside of their normal work through volunteer organizations, furthering a cause you are passionate about, or mission work through church, but it is also possible to find this at work, if you can connect using our skillset to something much bigger than yourself.

And with a little creative thinking, you can tell a meaningful story about what you do.  For example, I had a client who was the manager a large non-profit.  He told every person who worked for him that their job, their mission was the fulfillment of the nonprofits's mission which is feeding hungry people.  You aren't "just" the web designer for the volunteer staff web page.  You help make sure that $70,0000 meals make it to hungry kids this week because your web page works, and is easy to use helping ensure that you get enough volunteers to make those meals for those kids.  Your "job" isn't to keep a web page up and running.  Your job is to make sure kids don't go hungry.

Likewise, you aren't "just" a mom.  You are raising the next generation of good citizens with the skills needed to continue changing the world, and you are doing it by using your strengths.

You aren't "just" a hairdresser, you have the ability to listen to a client and bring out the best in them.  Really, when you have a great haircut, don't you feel like you can change the world?  It is connecting what you are good at and using it to contribute to something bigger than you.

The Pleasant life + the Good Life + the Meaningful Life = a Full life

A life of only pleasure seeking usually leads to an empty life.  A life solely lived working for the greater good typically leads to burnout and missing out on other important things and relationships as well.

Keep in mind not everything that makes you happy in the long run is easy or pleasant or makes you feel happy in that moment.  Sharing the last donut this weekend with my kids knowing I could have hidden in the pantry and eaten it alone (savoring it of course), didn't make me feel happy in that moment.  But the look on their face when they discovered that there was in fact one donut left, and watching them split it without bickering made me happier in the long run than eating that donut alone would have. 

All three levels matter, and all three are choices.  Choices about how you spend your time, how you view what you do, the story you tell yourself.

So what will choose to savor and what story will you choose to tell yourself today?

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