Happiness. It seems we are always in pursuit of it but do we even know what it is? How do you define it? I don’t mean a list of things that you equate to the emotion, but an actual definition. Scientists believe there are multiple types of happiness, and research reveals how we can achieve each of them. Currently, the belief is there are two types of happiness, and we are going after the wrong type of happy.
Two Types of Happiness
Happiness, what constitutes “happiness,” and how it is achieved has been an ongoing debate among philosophers for ages. There are two main types that science has remained consistent in adhering to, although there are hybrid versions and new theories that are still being examined.
1 – Hedonic happiness
The path to happiness and defining it has been a subject in humankind’s history since the ancient Greeks walked the Earth. At that time, the first type of happiness was defined as hedonism or the intrinsic desire of the pursuit of pleasure over pain. A Greek philosopher from 4th century BC, Aristippus, defined happiness as the sum of life’s hedonic events. Hedonic was described as a relaxed state where one feels more removed from any life issues and is able to say they “feel happy.”
Many people view hedonistic happiness as primarily self-focused and derived more from an external source. While hedonism is generally more recognized as gaining pleasure through physical sensations like alcohol, food, sex, or drugs, hedonic happiness can create similar effects that stem from a mental or emotional pleasure. Things, like buying a new car, getting a promotion or raise at work, or accomplishing a major goal, are examples of this. One is more short term sensations of happiness or pleasure, whereas the other requires long term effort to achieve.
While the philosophers still debate on hedonic happiness and its complete meaning, they all adhere to three principals. These principals are defined under the term “subjective wellbeing,” with “wellbeing” used interchangeably with “happiness.”
- Satisfaction with life for that moment or overall
- Having a positive mood
- Not having a negative mood
2 – Eudaimonic happiness
Eudaimonic happiness was introduced by Aristotle. He felt that man was driven to more than to just act upon pleasure like an animal. Humans were greater than that. He placed humankind’s happiness on the ability to act out of morals and virtue. Essentially, it is the idea that one feels happiness when one feels complete about themselves, or that they’re being their ”true self.” Proponents of this philosophy do not view happiness as mere pleasure. Instead, it is based on morals, virtues, and the development of one’s strengths. They believe an individual will derive happiness through taking actions and making decisions consistent with their beliefs, morals, and self-competence.
As our society is becoming more sophisticated, this philosophy has permeated the minds of many. The entire concept of “finding oneself” in positive psychology, healing your inner child, and more are in some ways based on this concept over the hedonic.
That said, our society also places great emphasis on the importance of money, external goods, prestige, and status. These things are more reflective of hedonic happiness.
Eudaimonic happiness on our body
Interesting enough, researchers performed a study at the University of California in Los Angeles, CA. In it, they compared the effects of both types of happiness on our genomes. Individuals who characterized themselves as gaining happiness through eudaimonic means tended to have lower inflammation and higher antiviral and antibody expressions in their genes. On the contrary, those who identified as achieving hedonic happiness tended toward the complete opposite. They had high inflammation, with low antibody and antiviral gene expression. The difference in their genomes did not seem to affect their overall positive feelings, but it did demonstrate that the differing philosophies did make a difference in how our bodies respond.
The main selling proponent of eudaimonic happiness is that it places the control, responsibility, and reward in the individual’s hand. Whether you feel happy is not dependent on if you win the lottery, if your boss recognizes your hard work and rewards you with a promotion or raise, or if you are able to impress others with your new car, outfit, or home. Since those are external variables you cannot truly control, then your happiness could fail to be achieved, or if it is achieved, then you need to chase after the next thing to keep that feeling going.
Let’s be clear here: regardless of your personal philosophy for happiness, we all feel pleasure when we achieve a great milestone, purchase a great object, or receive praise and recognition from others. The difference is in motivation. For someone who gains happiness through hedonic methods, those achievements equate to their only happiness. For the eudaimonic, those achievements, while appreciated, are not their focus for happiness. Happiness can be created for yourself, without being dependent upon external, unpredictable events and can be more consistent and long-term. How is this achieved?
8 Actionable tips to build happiness for yourself
There are certain behaviors and habits that happy people adopt to create happiness for themselves consistently.
1- Make time to enjoy life
Stop and smell the roses. So much is happening in our day that it is easy to go into autopilot and not treasure the good things that happen in your life. Stop and spend an extra 15 minutes to enjoy that sandwich for lunch, take 10 minutes to enjoy the birds chirping in the morning, a cool breeze, or sunsets.
2 – Donate your money
Be generous with your money (when you can) and yourself. Money takes hard work to earn and life is unpredictable. Happy people enjoy treating a friend to lunch, helping a family member with groceries one week, or donating to a charity. This includes sharing your time and energy to help people. Maybe the neighbor needs a babysitter that night, or a ride to the store. Being able to help others in one form or another enhances happiness.
3 – Choose your friends wisely
Misery loves company, and so does happiness. Positive, energetic, happy people help make each other feel good, creative, and positive about each other. Life always feels better with friends who share your interests and are happy for your successes. Being with like-minded people reinforces your values, believes, and habits toward happiness.
4 – Get physical
Staying physically active not only produces hormones that create that happy feeling, but it burns off stress, keeps your blood flowing to encourage creativity, and keeps you out with others who are sharing the same activity.
5 – Don’t worry, be positive
What you put into the world is usually what you get. If you believe that everything bad happens to you, then that is all you will see. Choosing to stay positive through difficulties allows you to see the whole picture. You don’t only see the unpaid gas bill. You also know that you can pay it in 3 days and in the meanwhile you have food on your table for another day.
6 – Recognize the importance of sleep
Sleep is essential to process your day. It allows your brain and body to recover from all the things it has done for you that day so it can do it again tomorrow. When you push yourself and don’t get enough rest, it is hard to stay positive because your frustration level is higher, your emotions are higher and your brain doesn’t process information as quickly. These all can lead to things happening that could easily be avoided.
7 – Adopt a happiness mindset
Choose to be happy. Happiness is a choice. Every morning, every minute, hour, or day, a person has the choice to be happy. It takes making the decision to be happy today and to not let the details of your day weigh you down.
8 – Invest in self-growth
Personal growth is an ongoing lifestyle. When a person believes they “just are the way they are,” it inhibits growth. They have locked themselves into a way of being that doesn’t flex with life. Choosing to have a growth mindset allows you to learn new things, discover more about yourself, and be creative in how you approach obstacles.
Final Thoughts on Your Ability to Find Happiness
There are two types of happiness, and we are going after the wrong one. Happiness takes work and a commitment to yourself. It is an amazing, powerful thing that happiness does not need to be out of your control and dependent upon achievements or other people. You unlock the key to bliss through your hands, your mind, and your desire to be happy. And you might need to change some habits, look at the world differently, and take responsibility for your mindset. But in the end, you will be happier for it.