How To Be Happy – Understand What Happiness Is – And Is Not
I originally wrote a post called How To Be Happy which was a fairly bare bones list of things I have found add to my own happiness. Now, I would like to go more in depth with some of those topics.
The first thing you need to do is understand what happiness is – and is not.
Happiness does NOT just happen when you finally get your life to the place where you think it should be. There is NO thresh hold over which your life passes into happiness.
There are two totally separate, and completely unrelated “things” here.
One “thing” is getting the life you always dreamed of having. That is nothing more than a GOAL. A highly complex goal, sure. But still just a goal. Fundamentally, it’s no different than any other goal you have ever had in your life.
The other “thing” is being happy. Now, happiness is an EMOTION. And like all emotions, it’s highly complex as well.
There are two kinds of happiness, JOY and CONTENTMENT. I’m sure there are many other types of happiness, but for this post we are only going to talk about these two.
Joy is fleeting. It’s what you feel when you achieve a goal.
Contentment is long lasting. It’s the thing people are talking about when they say, “I want to be happy”.
Since we feel happy when we achieve goals, most of us have decided that if we reach ALL of our goals we will be happy ALL of the time. That is flawed logic for many reasons.
What we feel when we reach our goals isn’t CONTENTMENT, it’s JOY. And contentment is really the emotion that most of us what to achieve long term in our lives. We don’t realize that there are two very different facets of that emotion we call HAPPINESS.
Some things are meant to be enjoyed in small increments, and joy is one of them. Joy is what you feel when you achieve a goal. It’s the feeling that drives you to achieve another goal. It’s nature’s way of programming you so that you will keep setting and achieving goals.
It’s like that wonderful feeling you have during great sex. Nature gave you that feeling so you will want to have sex again – and populate the species. You don’t have a notion in your head that if you have sex a certain number of times or ways you will finally reach a perpetual state of orgasmic bliss, do you?
Nature gives us joy so that we will keep setting and achieving new goals. It’s a reward system, never meant to stop. We aren’t biologically programmed to ever stop striving for new goals. As soon as we achieve one, we set another one. Just like with sex. We keep trying to have more of it. And when we do have it, we get that wonderful – fleeting – reward. And then we want to have it again. It aids in that whole, “survival of the fittest” concept. It helps our species evolve.
Here is another example. These are some of the things that bring me joy: eating chocolate chip cheese cake, watching Star Trek, hearing a really funny joke, playing with my dogs. Yes, I’m confident all those things bring me – fleeting – joy.
If I did any of these things all the time, not only would I NOT feel any joy, I would actually become quite miserable. I can’t have sex all the time and expect it to bring me contentment. I can’t eat chocolate chip cheese cake all the time and expect it to bring me contentment. I can’t watch Star Trek all the time and expect it to bring me contentment. And I can’t set and achieve goals (even highly complex ones like getting all the things I ever wanted in life) and expect it to bring me contentment.
Setting and achieving goals is a good thing. It keeps us active, motivated, on the path of evolution. The human ability to set and achieve goals has helped make us the dominant form of life on this planet. But in the end, it’s not something that is all that special or unique to us.
All animals on Earth have this same, biological drive to improve their situation. Every year, the females are on the lookout for the strongest males to mate with. The males are out to beat all the competing males around them so they can mate with the most females. Do they ever stop and think, “well, I had a good mating season last year. I’m happy.”? No, they don’t. They always have a new goal. The herds migrate to the best grazing lands, the beavers add on to their dam, the salmon swim back upstream to spawn.
Now, what about contentment? Did nature give us that? I don’t think so. What purpose would contentment serve us, biologically? What possible benefit would we receive if we suddenly all just said, “hey, I’m satisfied with what I have.”?
Well, if the animals ever said, “hey I had a pretty good mating season last year, I’m content.” their species wouldn’t last long, would it?
If humans had said after the Industrial Revolution, “hey, this is pretty good! I’m content with this!” We wouldn’t have airplanes, smart phones, or Google…or Star Trek!
The feeling of contentment is not a gift that nature would give us. Nature does not want us to be content. It wants us always to be striving for more. And obviously, that IS a good thing. Can you imagine life without Star Trek???
So, we are conflicted. We desperately want to be content, but at the same time have a biological drive to always be setting new goals – to never quite be satisfied with what we have.
I’m not going to say now that there is a simple step you can take to alleviate this conflict. It’s not simple, and it’s not easy. But there IS a FIRST step. And the first step is to understand what happiness is – and is not.
Understand that you will be working on, and experiencing two different kinds of happiness, JOY and CONTENTMENT. I’ve read lots of articles that tell us to stop striving for more money, better jobs, cleaner houses, better this, and better that. They tell us to be satisfied with what we have and stop trying to get better things.
While I do believe we should stop striving so hard to always reach a higher goal, I don’t think we should just give up and be satisfied with what we have. We need to always be striving for improvement AND AT THE SAME TIME, be content in the life we have right now.
Our contentment with life, and our drive to set and achieve goals are not enmeshed with each other. They are two totally separate and unrelated things. When you truly understand this, and accept it, you can take the next step: Practice Being Happy!
What do you think? Can humans be happy and at the same time strive for a better life? Should we focus more on being happy with what we have now? Do you have any suggestions on how we can attain happiness? Your comments are always welcome!