The Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness and the pursuit of it seem to be a topic popping up around me a lot lately. Maybe it is because ’tis the season to be jolly’. The right to pursue it is written into the declaration of independence, the self-help bookshelves are jam-packed with different ways to live your life to be happy and Pharell Williams wrote a very catchy song about it (among a plethora of others). But what is it? Is it feeling joy? Is it being content? Is it feeling pleasure?

Happiness is individual. What makes you happy and how you feel when you are happy is all about you. For me, it is deeply connected to my values and feeling content and fulfilled. It is a feeling or emotional state that I am in when I feel like I am heading in the direction that aligns with the core of my being. I feel it when I am running, I feel it when I am in the moment with my kids, I feel it when I clear the tasks that I have had hanging around forever on my to-do list and I definitely feel it when I write.

That doesn’t mean that I only do those things, because what is life without struggle. And let’s face it life gives us responsibilities that mean we can’t do those things 100% of the time. I don’t feel happy when I am doing my taxes! I don’t want to feel like I am in a perpetual state of joy, chasing a high like an addict. I want to feel all the ranges of emotion. I want to feel sadness, anger, peace, frustration, and pride because it is what makes me human. Feeling the range of emotions means I can have compassion for others, it helps me to learn more about myself and to develop as an individual. It also makes those times of happiness mean more and feel deeper.

So how much happiness is enough? Again, it is very individual and chasing it through the acquisition of things is not the answer.  According to the hedonic treadmill theory the more money and possessions we have, the more our expectations rise, i.e. the more we have the more we want. There is a set point that we level out to after each significant experience that caused a spike in happiness. That’s one of the reasons why people that have a lot of money, possessions and amazing experiences aren’t necessarily happy.  Positive psychology is the study of ways to permanently up the level of that set point by being true to your values, having hope and gratitude, building resilience, finding inspiration, and feeling joy and compassion, whilst also understanding the need for balance and that life is not always a box of fluffies.

“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living” (Peterson, 2008).

So as we get closer to the big jolly fat guy in the red suit arriving, take a moment to remember that the receiving of gifts will make you happy for a minute, for longer-lasting happiness and the overall wellbeing try a little gratitude, give a little compassion and see how you feel after the holiday is over.

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