When was the last time you thought about what makes you happy? What even is happiness?
Some of us believe that the less we think about happiness, the happier we are. We shy away from thinking about it and go about our lives, thinking it’ll just sort itself out.
Others believe we’re locked into a happiness setpoint- That there's a lucky handful of people who are blessed with naturally happier dispositions than others. As a result of that limiting belief, a troubling number of us have resigned ourselves to the idea that some people just aren’t meant to feel joyful all the time. We may have decided that we’re realistic thinkers, that we’re practical and pragmatic. That we see the world how it really is, and behave accordingly. We start to see things, people and situations through a quietly negative prism, sometimes without even realizing it. This serious approach to thoughts spills over into everything, and in turn our happiness loses its shine. Or maybe we’re one of the lucky ones and we blissfully bounce through life, letting troubles slide off us like water off a duck’s back.
While attitude is an extremely important factor when it comes to enjoying a peaceful and happy existence... There are other crucial elements to consider if we’re talking about thoroughly exploring the idea of happiness. We’ve never been shrinking violets in regards to talking about sticky subjects… So why is this topic- the very basis of our happiness- such a taboo to discuss, or even to really think about, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves?
Because we can sometimes feel powerless. We’ve learned to gracefully accept things we cannot change. We humbly take it on the chin, switch our attention to more productive things, and get on with the business that our efforts can make an impact on. But here’s where we’re going to stop you right there.
We need you to know something that will help. That we’re not merely passengers- just along for the ride on our emotions. We can effectively influence our level of happiness and feeling of contentment in life. We’ve discovered that we can tweak our outlook. We can change our happiness level. Let us introduce you to the concept of the “Happiness Spectrum”. We love exploring this surprising metric that points us in the right direction. It allows us to identify new ways, and then consciously make choices that move us toward better feelings.
My mother once told me, “Wherever you go, there you are…” And it’s so true. Here we are with ourselves. We can be our own best friend, or our own worst enemy. That jewel of wisdom always stuck with me, guiding me through my own journey of self discovery. It’s ultimately caused me to deeply understand that in order to be truly happy, we need to be completely in alignment and comfortable with who we each are as a person. It made me shun the idea that we’re stuck with the hand we’re dealt when it comes to how happy we can feel. I knew there had to be something more.
Understanding Low-Level vs. High-Level Happiness
So let’s delve a little deeper into understanding ourselves with the Happiness Spectrum tool. You’ll discover that by diving deep down into our behaviors, our efforts can actually catapult our happiness in the opposite direction… Straight up.
What do you do that makes you happy? Let’s take a look at how we strive for happiness in our daily lives. First, there are activities that give us low-level gratification. This is called Hedonism. They FEEL good on the surface, they’re exciting, but they’re kinda shallow. Then there are activities that give us high-level happiness. These are a bit harder to achieve, and take some discipline… But they are sustainable, and life-affirming. You may not have heard the Ancient Greek word for these activities before: They’re called Eudaimonia. A rough translation means “Living Excellently”, and by that, we’re talking about doing things that make you feel completely proud of who you are as a human being.
Now, how do we move away from lower-level happiness activities that feel good on the surface, but then once the initial buzz from that instant gratification has worn off, leave us feeling empty... Or sometimes even worse than before? How do we strive for more advanced happiness-achieving actions in our life?
We move up the ladder.
Let’s start at the bottom, and talk about pleasure-seeking Hedonism...
What is Pleasure-Seeking Hedonism?
With all the stress in our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to indulge in some little low-level treats that give us a bit of relief from the daily grind. And there’s nothing wrong with that! On occasion. As with all good things in life, it’s important to understand that indulgence is a form of hedonism. When we think of “Hedonistic pursuits”, we summon mental images of plump Ancient Greeks devouring extravagant buffets, languishing around on sumptuous velvet chaise lounges while spilling overflowing goblets of wine… But fast-forward to modern times, and we’ll see that we’re all a little guilty of some hedonism every day without even realizing it.
So what’s the problem with a bit of hedonism? We deserve to enjoy life, to revel in the pleasures of an amazing meal, to go to parties with our friends, to go on vacations, to break bread and celebrate the simple pleasures!
Of course we do, but some of these things can be very addictive, and like all addictions, the shine will fade and can have devastating after-effects on our overall happiness over time. Because there is also the darker side to hedonism. Activities that are intended to help us avoid suffering- and these actions often do help with that for a little while. But once the thrill has worn off, they can leave you feeling hollow. We’re talking about little traps we fall into, the things we use as a “Band-Aid” fix for our mood.
Here’s some things we all chase that are sneakily masquerading as happiness-bringing activities... But, just like a night of cocktails that are fun while they last- afterwards they can leave us with an emotional hangover if we over-indulge:
- Money- The relentless pursuit for this stuff can certainly make life easier, but we know that money can not buy us happiness. Once you get it, you spend it, and then you need to figure out how to get more again. Suddenly you’re on the hamster wheel. Working our behinds off for the sole purpose of getting rich doesn’t give us job satisfaction or a feeling of accomplishment, it just makes us a machine.
- Beauty- Comparison is the enemy of joy. We are all beautiful, and deserve to be comfortable and proud in our own skin. Looking after our appearance is wonderful for our self-esteem, but obsessing over our looks- or worse- wishing we looked like somebody else... is a slippery slope that you’ll never find relief from if you don’t fully embrace your own unique beauty in its many forms.
- Success and Fame- While being known for something is a very exciting concept, trying to impress people and gain notoriety doesn’t do all that much for your sense of fulfillment once you’ve attained it. Some of the happiest people never go on to have their name lit up in bright lights, but instead are heroes in their own households or communities.
- Shopping- That blast of happy chemicals your brain gets from an exciting new purchase always wears off the minute you see the next thing you absolutely have to have. If left unchecked it can be relentless, leaving you tumbling into a cycle of longing for things, then having that want gratified when you indulge... Only to have the feeling of lack and longing come back in full force shortly after. Relying on retail therapy to cheer you up can cause financial hardship as you try to sustain that happy feeling you get when you buy something, but find out it only leads to guilt and regret long-term.
- Validation From Others- Plastering your personal life all over social media to get “Likes” can leave us feeling giddy when we get the approval we’re looking for... But a bit beat down when we don’t get as much attention as we may have appreciated. Searching for constant gratification from others distracts us from feeling fulfilled within, and being proud of our own achievements without relying on others to fulfill our sense of worth and value. You know your worth, so who cares what anyone else has to say about it!
- Gossip- While it may make us feel a bit superior for a moment to look down our nose at something someone else is doing and pass comments on their life, you’re not doing yourself any long-term favors. Even if the friend you’re indulging in a bit of light-hearted gossip with seems to be enjoying the conversation (and is putting in their two cents too!)... You might be unknowingly establishing yourself in their eyes as a judgmental person. Not only that, but it’s a matter of integrity. You know you wouldn’t like to overhear a group of your girlfriends commenting on your life and how you conduct it, so rise above the need to comment on anyone’s life unless they specifically ask you for advice. You’ll sleep so much easier knowing you’re an honest, kind-hearted soul who is treating others how you yourself would like to be treated.
How Do We Move Up the Ladder on The Happiness Spectrum?
Here’s where a bit of effort and dedication comes in… But with it, you’ll see rewards for your overall happiness that are beyond your wildest imaginings. By leaning into Eudaimonia, the pursuit of Living Excellently. This is how you change the course of your life. The quality of your connections. Your feeling of self-worth. Your success during Every. Single. Moment. of your existence.
If you think they sound difficult, consider this: You’re not going anywhere. You’re still going to be there, with yourself, for the rest of your life. What better motivation, knowing that you have all the time in the world to climb up the ladder, toward these better-feeling thoughts and actions.
Let’s start working on the most important mission you’ll ever embark on: Your fulfillment and happiness.
- Live with Integrity-This is the single most impactful thing you can do for yourself when it comes to feeling good about who you are. It’s the things you say and do when nobody is watching. You always know if you acted with integrity, and you’re the only one judging yourself. Are you proud of how you conducted yourself? Were you honest? Did you do your best? The only person you have something to prove to is yourself. You know what to do.
- Cultivate beautiful relationships- We are not solitary creatures. Humans crave connection, and we thrive on it. Investing some time and energy into improving relationships with others is win-win for all involved. You get a boost from giving love, you give somebody some love, and you get some back in return. Talk about walking on a cloud.
- Create an impact- Whether you’re sharing a talent you have with the world, volunteering with an organization, or even just being there for somebody who’s having a hard time… There are countless ways you can create positive change in the world, and in turn, within yourself.
- Invest in Education- We never stop learning until the day we die. Moments to learn new things are constantly presenting themselves to us. It can be as elaborate as starting a degree, or as simple as having a fascinating conversation with somebody or picking up a new skill. Expanding your horizons provides incredible fulfillment, and in turn allows you to pay it forward and share your knowledge with others.
- Be Kind- At the end of the day, not that many people will remember what you did, or what you said… But they will never forget how you made them feel. We are all lightworkers, and we have the gift of love to share with the world. It doesn’t cost a cent, but its value is priceless. Whatever form sharing kindness may take in your life, small gestures of love will fill your soul up to overflowing with happy vibes.
- Just Be- This one is both a bit odd-sounding, and really obvious all at once. Learning to be comfortable in your own company, just doing nothing, lets us really sit down and meet with ourselves. It also allows us to practice being content in any situation, no matter what’s going on in the external world around us. Meditation has countless benefits, helps you clear your head and lets you observe where your thoughts flow when they’re not being stimulated by some sort of entertainment engaging them. You might be surprised at what bubbles up. That’s ok if it does, let it all wash over you. Notice the thoughts, and then let them go. You can apply this technique to pretty much any situation in life, and you’ll see that you can choose to be happy, no matter what.
When you make a conscious effort to move away from the low-level happiness activities, and aim instead for the higher-level actions... You’ll be working toward sustainable, deep, long-term happiness that you get to enjoy for the rest of your life.
Let’s climb that happiness ladder and take a look at our values, goals and contributions to ourselves and the world. Are your aspirations geared more toward success, money, fame and upholding an image… Or are they on self-acceptance, learning, gratitude and giving back?
We’d love to hear your strategies for bringing long-lasting happiness into your life! Share your wisdom in the comments below.
~Keneesha and the Urbanbella Team