Happiness is more than a jumble of intensely positive feelings—it’s probably better described as a sense of “peace” or “contentedness.” Regardless of how it’s defined, happiness is partly emotional—and therefore tethered to the truth that each individual’s feelings have a natural set point, like a thermostat. Yes, positive events give you a boost, but before long you swing back toward your natural set point.
True happiness lasts longer than a burst of dopamine. Your sense of happiness also includes cognitive reflections, such as when you give a mental thumbs-up or thumbs-down to your best friend’s sense of humor or the quality of your life. Only a bit of this sense has to do with how you feel; the rest is the product of mental arithmetic, when you compute your expectations, your ideals, your acceptance of what you can’t change—and countless other factors. That is, happiness is a state of mind, and as such, can be intentional and strategic.
Regardless of your emotional set point, your everyday habits and choices—from the way you operate in a friendship to how you reflect on your life decisions—can push the needle on your well-being. It turns out that activities that lead us to feel uncertainty, discomfort, and even a dash of guilt are associated with some of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of people’s lives.
Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counterintuitive habits that seem, well, downright unhappy. We don’t deny the importance of happiness – but we’ve also concluded that a well-lived life is more than just one in which you feel “up.” The good life is best construed as a matrix that includes happiness, occasional sadness, a sense of purpose, playfulness, and mental flexibility.
In the end we can combine a well rounded healthy embrace of ALL life presents us (good and bad) as common grounds for autonomy, mastery, and belonging.
Peace and Love, Jim