4 min read
07 Aug

What exactly is happiness?  It’s pretty hard to define when you think about it, and will be different for every single one of us.  One person’s ‘happy place’ could be another person’s hell.

According to ancient Greek philosophy, there are two types of happiness - Hedonic well being and Eudaimonic wellbeing.  Hedonic wellbeing is the joy you feel in that moment - when you win £50 on the lottery, when you’re out with your friends and that great floorfiller comes on (yeah I know - Dancing Queen), when your boss praises you in front of the rest of the team for your great presentation.  These moments are fleeting, short lived, intense.  And they’re unsustainable.

Eudaimonic wellbeing on the other hand is the happiness we get from living a life with purpose and meaning.  It’s the feeling we get when we’re living life in line with our values;  when we feel fulfilled.  It’s not the high you get with hedonic wellbeing, but it’s a slow burner, it’s sustainable and it leads to greater life satisfaction.  It’s more of a consistent contentment than a euphoric elation. 

Sometimes we talk about happiness as if it’s a ‘thing’ we can get.  The truth is that nobody is happy 100% of the time. That’s not real life.   We all have highs and lows and inbetweens.  But we can raise our overall base level of happiness by concentrating more on what we do, rather than what we have .  It takes practice and it’s a commitment, but it’s worth it.   We all have a relationship with happiness and like every successful relationship, it needs to be nurtured and cherished.  

If you’ve ever done any kind of exercise class from Pilates to Hiit, you’ll know what your core is.  It’s that inner area, that when it’s strong and functioning properly, protects the spine, and stabilises the rest of your body,   I like to think of happiness as a kind of emotional core - the stronger our core of happiness (and I mean the sustainable eudaimonic type), the less likely it is that life’s inevitable blows will bring you down.

So how can we nourish the things that bring us long term happiness?  Psychologist Martin Seligman shows that there are 5 elements to long term happiness.   

Positive emotion - we need to experience pleasure and positive mood on a regular basis - joy, curiosity, fun, hope, love, gratitude are all examples of this. 

Engagement or Flow - we need to experience being ‘in the zone’ - that feeling that you get when you’re totally absorbed in a task and time seems to fly.  You feel purposeful and almost superhuman.  

Relationships - supportive and caring connections with others are essential to well-being.  As humans we have a need to feel connected to others -whether that be through family, friends, colleagues, community, religious groups or any other form of regular social interaction in which we care about others, and in return we feel cared for ourselves.  

Meaning - having meaningful activities in your life.  This could be anything from religion or spirituality to tradition, community and learning, amongst others.  Having a life purpose contributes to our sense of happiness and gives us a sense of direction.  It's about staying true to who you are and living as the authentic you.  

Accomplishment - this can include achievement and working towards goals and higher competence. We all have natural strengths, abilities and skills.  Using them regularly to help us grow and develop as individuals, will add to our overall level of happiness.

Spend some time thinking about the above five elements - how much of each one are you getting in your life? Work on increasing the ones that are lacking and nourishing the ones that are working well for you.  

In the meantime, here are five things you can do today (and every day) to increase your core happiness

  • Practice a random act of kindness - this could be anything from smiling at a stranger on the street (I know - weird), to putting your neighbour’s bin out (check it’s the right day) or paying for the coffee of the person behind you in the queue (I’ve never quite worked this out - what if they’re ordering for their whole office??)

  •  Don’t compare yourself to others.  There’s always going to be someone richer/thinner/more successful/more talented etc than you.  But there’s also always going to be someone LESS rich/thin/successful/talented than you too.  Just stay in your lane and focus on YOUR path.  Compete only with your lovely self.  Everybody has their own hidden genius.

Comparison with myself brings improvement, comparison with others brings discontent.   Betty Jamie Chung

  •  Say no.  Part of long term happiness, I believe, is to have inner peace. Say no to anything or anyone that doesn’t spark joy (thanks Marie Kondo).  Give yourself the headspace to process your day.  If that means saying no to that drinks invitation or that request from a neighbour to help them move a washing machine,  so be it.  I’m not saying that we should all become selfish hermits, but constantly saying yes to things that drain us is the highway to unhappiness.  It’s OK to say no. Recognise when you take on too much. Always leave yourself a buffer zone.

  •  Tune in to the world around you.  Become aware of the simple joys of life - the taste of that first cup of tea in the morning (or that first glass of chilled wine after work on Friday), the smell of a bonfire in Autumn, the feel of cool water on your hands on a hot day, the sound of rain on the window. By connecting to our senses, we become more connected to the world around us, and will have less need for stimulation from drainers like social media and retail therapy.

The little things?  The little moments?  They aren’t little.  

Jon Kabat-Zin

  • Always be curious about your emotions - when you know what motivates you, what triggers you, what brings you down, what lifts you up,  that self awareness becomes a kind of compass to guide you through life.  When you feel irritated or angry, defensive or judgemental, try and take a step back and look at it dispassionately.  What other times have you felt like this?  Is there a pattern?  What can you do to change it?

What has been the happiest moment for you in the past month?  

Mine was driving along a coastal road in Corsica with my two children, the windows down and 'Hard Place' (from the Love Island soundtrack) blasting out of the speakers, smelling the sea and looking forward to our destination - a wild swim in the mountains.  Of course, there are lots of happy moments when you're on your summer holiday - next month's might be slightly less magical for me!

If you'd like to share your own happy moment, feel free to write it in the comments box below.

If you’re interested in increasing your overall happiness and would like help with solutions-focussed tools to bring change into your life, get in touch.  Or try my Find Your Happy workshop.  My details are above.   Alternatively, if you’ve found this article interesting, sign up for regular newsletters or leave a comment below.

Suggested reading

Achieve Lasting Happiness - Bridget Glenville Cleave

Flourish - Martin Seligman 

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