In Search of Happiness – Part 1
Reading time : 1 minute and 27 seconds
Here at Less Ordinary Towers, we never shirk from the biggest, hairiest questions. As we hit September and that back to school feeling kicks in, we’re taking on one of the biggest of them all – what is happiness? We’ll start the ball rolling by looking at one view from the world of positive psychology and suggesting some reading to back this up. We’d love to hear from you, our valued reader, on how you find happiness and what it means in your life, so please take a minute to comment.
Happiness is a tricky thing to pin down and has kept philosophers on their toes for millennia. One theory that has helped my understanding was developed by Professor Tal Ben-Shahar, the positive psychologist at Harvard. He proposes that the feeling of happiness is really the product of feedback from our emotions. Emotions help us to assess the way we are leading our lives. Ben-Shahar believes that happiness is not some ideal state of bliss to aim towards, it is simply how we are feeling at any moment and can change quickly. So what contributes to how happy we feel?
Ben-Shahar outlines that happiness is composed of two parts:
The first is pleasure. Pleasure is the immediate short-term joy brought from doing things that make us feel good. Finding pleasure involves living each day in a way that brings joy and excitement. Pleasure encourages the carpe diem school of life – you only get one bit of the cherry. It is about enjoying the journey and finding happiness every day.
The second part of happiness is purpose. Purpose is the long term planning and actions that bring a feeling of fulfilment in life. Living with purpose is about creating a vision and goals, doing the hard work, learning, overcoming obstacles and achieving our objectives. The emotional pay-back of reaching our stated goals, of making a difference in the world and doing something truly meaningful brings us a sense of happiness.
Of course these two components are often difficult to combine. In the first few months of this year, I found myself overwhelmed by the prospect of building a new business from scratch and focused all my energy into working very hard to develop long-term plans. I wasn’t making the most of each day or looking after myself well. In retrospect, I was stressed and unhappy. Despite being very purposeful and marching up the mountain towards my long-term goals at warp speed, I forgot to stop and enjoy the view.
Ben-Shahar proposes that our level of happiness stems from our ability to create a life that allows both short-term pleasure and long-term purpose. In the second half of this year, I’ve spent a lot of time identifying what brings me joy and makes me feel healthy in the short term – spending time with family, running, being outside and meditating. I’ve slowed down and brought more of these things in daily life. Although hard to maintain, I’ve felt much happier as I’ve found a balance of pleasure and purpose in my life.
Ben-Shahar’s theory of happiness is one of many contributions from the world of positive psychology in the search for happiness. If you’re interested in reading more, we recommend the following as starting points:
Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx – The Website of Martin Seligman with many interactive tests about happiness and fulfillment
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