Happiness often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to worthy pursuits. “Happiness is temporary and shallow,” the Happy-Haters spitefully protest. But secretly all we really want is to be happy. From TV shows to vacations to religious experiences, we organize our lives around the question of, “How can I be happy right now?” whether we admit that to ourselves or not.
Happiness is adaptive. We can feel happy when we give a homeless person $5 and an orange from our lunch. We can feel happy on a cold winter’s day as we snuggle up next to a fire with a mug of hot tea and a good book. We can feel happy when our team wins the World Series.
As scientists are apt to do they have constructed a blandish phrase to describe happiness. They call it “subjective well-being”. It is a rather comprehensive description though I would add one word: temporary.
Temporary subjective well-being encapsulates all the arguments for and against pursuing happiness. The Happy-Haters righteously point to the temporal nature of happiness as its fatal flaw. “Why not put your energy and time toward something more substantial,” they argue, “like joy or meaningfulness or sacrifice for others?” Ironically, we pursue joy, meaningfulness and personal sacrifice specifically to make ourselves feel happy.
What is the essence of living a happy, more satisfying life? In 2009 researchers from Southwest Minnesota State University observed an interesting phenomenon.
We often plan for big events like vacations, concerts, weddings and anniversaries with much fanfare. People travel from far and wide to celebrate these occasions. They are momentous events to be sure but those are not what create substantially happy lives. The researchers concluded that it is not the intensity of positive emotional experiences that determine how happy we are but the frequency and duration of them. In other words, find ways to be happy everyday throughout the day like savoring a spoonful of ice cream to playing an imaginary game with your kid. The frequency of positive emotional experiences are the hallmark of a well-lived life.
One way to create regular positive experiences is through the practice of gratitude. It takes no money and you can do it anywhere anytime. As I’m writing these words I am grateful for a job that allows me to pursue and share with others ideas like how to live a happier life. I am also grateful for you, whoever you may be, for reading this blog. It is my hope that you find more happiness more often. The regular practice of gratitude is a powerful tool that grounds us in the present and rewires our brain to focus on the positive all around us more often.
The take home is to embrace those grand, intense moments of life. They are special indeed. However, remember to embrace and celebrate the small, joyful moments as well. In these garden variety, day-to-day instances lie the secret to the happiness we are all seeking.
If you or someone you know wants is going through a rough patch and could use a little more happiness in their life please call me at (615) 283-0880 or peruse my website for more information and a ton of free resources.