Ask yourself: how happy are you right now…let’s say on a scale of one to ten?
This might seem an easy enough question to answer at a basic level, but maybe, if I ask you to look deeper, you’ll begin to realise how complicated answering this can become.
You might look to how happy you feel about work or home life. You might look beyond the personal to local or even global issues. You might think about the past, present or how you feel about the future….Happiness is multifaceted. So…
What actually is Happiness?
Is it, as the dictionary defines it, a feeling of pleasure and contentment? A sense of satisfaction? Of wellbeing? Is it something that you experience from moment to moment … is it a general feeling that you have which persists over time. I guess the answer is ‘yes’ to all of these.
The bottom line is that happiness is a complicated, subjective and, to an extent, private feeling. Ultimately, it can be a different experience for different people and in different times and places. Does anyone else’s head hurt?
So…If It’s So Hard To Understand…How Might We Increase It?
We all want to be happy…don’t we? That seems like a reasonable goal…doesn’t it? We certainly don’t want to be miserable.
Well…paradoxically, if you want to experience happiness, the advice seems to be: be careful how much you chase it.
As the Canadian Psychologist Jordan Peterson points out in this video, and as research suggests, trying to chase happiness as a goal in itself is not often a good thing. It can result in increased pressure, disappointment and even feelings of depression. Ultimately, we can end up feeling miserable.
Being happy all of the time, as lovely as it might seem, isn’t realistic, or normal, for most people, if any, and to assume so is setting ourselves up for disappointment. We all experience a range of emotions, and happiness is just one of them.
Happiness seems to be a bit like trying to pet a shy animal. The more you try to reach for it, the more it backs away. But once you stop trying so hard, you might find that it’s more likely to come to you.
Things Can’t Buy You Happiness
One way that people chase happiness is through the acquisition of things. We seem to be genetically programmed with this need. As Derren Brown points out in his book “Happy – Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine” * (p765) we feel like once we obtain what we desire, we will feel fulfilled. But, once we do, we can end up feeling empty, or, at the very least, familiarity will overtake the excitement and we will be left wanting more.
This effect has been called ‘The Hedonic Treadmill‘ (hedonic referring to ‘Hedonism’. The philosophy that pleasure is the most important goal in life). It’s the theory that we have a set base-line of happiness, and that we return to this level after positive (or even negative) events.
The take-away from this is that, yes, it’s okay to want nice things, but being aware of the idea of the hedonic treadmill can help us make more rational choices. One thing I usually ask myself when staring at a possible purchase is “is this a want or a need?” If it’s a need then it’s less negotiable. If it’s a want then how much do I really want it? How much will I still want it once I’ve owned it for a while?
“Money Can’t Buy You Happiness”…Or Can It?
It’s an old cliche, but is the old saying ‘Money can’t buy you happiness” true?
Well…when I’m met with this saying I often say: “no…but it can buy you freedom” (by which I mean the freedom to buy what you need when you need it, or to go where you need to go with minimal restrictions), and this is often the key point. Research suggests that money does actually increase happiness…but only to a point, and for the following reason.
Lets face it. A lack of money isn’t going to help your happiness. If you don’t have enough to pay the bills, to put food on the table, or to fix the boiler when it’s the middle of winter, life can be stressful.
However, research seems to show that once you earn over a certain amount, enough to live comfortably, the correlation between happiness and income lessens. This is probably due to the stresses of responsibility associated with high paid jobs or maybe owning your own company, and the increased competitiveness as you try to ‘keep up with appearances’.
Imagine What it Would Be Like if You Lost Everything
Linked to these points regarding money and things: my mum always told me that ‘happiness is wanting what you have, not having what you want‘ and this is often true.
The stoics had a technique they used to increase happiness called ‘negative visualisation’. This involves thinking about the loss of everything you care about….the things you own, your job, your status and even family and friends. Does this sound slightly depressing? Well…the idea here really isn’t to depress you, but to help increase your sense of gratitude for what you have and also help you to be stronger when adversity occurs.
If you want to increase your happiness, balance pleasure with purpose.
In his book ‘Happiness by Design’, Paul Dolan* looks at how our happiness is bound up quite closely with what is pleasurable, and our sense of purpose.
For example, we might spend the odd weekend devouring a box set. This might be pleasurable in the short term, but do this too often and you might feel that this is time wasted and begin to berate yourself and feel the need to be more productive.
Similarly, you might spend your weekend working hard on a project or tidying the house, and feel good because you’ve been productive. But, again, too much of this and you might start to feel resentful as you haven’t had time to relax.
It seems that, to experience happiness, we need to have a good balance. between pleasure and purpose.
The question should not be “what is the meaning of life” but “how can I give my life meaning?”
I’m honestly not sure where this quote comes from, but I think it’s a great one.
Having an overall sense of meaning in your life seems to be one of the most important things for prolonged happiness and good metal health.
The book that springs to mind when thinking about this, and one I highly recommend reading, is ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl. *
Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived a number of the Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz. He observed that those who survived in the camps were those who had a strong sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Essentially, a reason to live. For Frankl, this was to be able to write his theories and pass them on, after his work was taken from him during capture.
He developed ‘Logotherapy’. A form of Psychotherapy based on the idea that man’s primary motivation is to try and find this meaning in their lives. This doesn’t have to come from some sort of ultimate, metaphysical, external source, but is more personal and different for each individual.
So How Does This Fit In With Being a Gentleman?
Well…you may wonder what this meaning is for you, personally. I’ve often wondered this too.
For me, I have realised that it isn’t money, things, or status that drives me. It’s simply trying to be the best person that I can be – In particular, the best father, the best husband, the best son, the best member of society, and all that this entails. I don’t think there are many better goals than this one.
Life inevitably presents challenges and I can often fall short of my ideal, but challenges are what make us stronger and having this sort of goal in mind is what creates meaning in my life, helps me make decisions and is, ultimately, what makes me happy.
Thank you for reading this post I hope you enjoyed it. If so please don’t forget to like, share and subscribe. (:
What makes you happy? Please leave a comment. 🙂
References and Recommended Reading:
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