Life Lessons in the Real World

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Two Types of Happiness — Increase Both!

splitsmiley.JPGThere are two kinds of happiness:

–First, there’s the feeling of happiness, which we might describe by saying, “I am in a happy mood.”

–Second, there’s the level of satisfaction we feel toward the way our lives are going, which we might describe by saying, “I am a happy person. ”

Yes, the two types of happiness are related, but no, they are not the same thing. And yes, the distinction matters.

If you’re curious about why it matters, consider the case of parenthood. Studies have shown that women are less happy when taking care of children than they are when doing most anything else, including eating and exercising. On one level, this should come as no surprise, since taking care of children is hard work. But on another level, it’s quite shocking, since almost every mother claims to be happy she had children.

Are all these mothers lying?

In a word: No.

The discrepancy is caused by the difference between the moment-to-moment feeling of happiness and the holistic evaluation of our lives. In other words, we find parenthood to be rewarding and meaningful, despite its day-to-day aggravations; we mean it when we say we’re happy we chose to have children, just like we mean it when we say we’d rather be riding a treadmill than changing diapers.

Put more simply, feeling happy depends upon an immediate sense of pleasure, while life satisfaction hinges more upon meaning and purpose.

Keeping in mind the difference between these two types of happiness, here are a few tips to boost each:

The Present-Tense Emotion of Happiness

1. Be Thankful: Once a day, remind yourself of all the things you have to be thankful for: relationships, shelter, food, family, and whatever else makes you feel happy to be alive. Research has shown that taking time to be thankful for blessings has an immediate (and often powerful) affect upon happiness.

2. Think Positive: While it’s important to be mindful of the negative forces in the world, many people fixate upon these to the exclusion of all that his pleasant and good. Remember, there are just as many positive influences in the world as negative; our fixation upon the negative is a matter of choice.

3. Attitude Adjustment: Avoid self-destructive attitudes, such as jealousy, persecution complex, perfectionism, and lack of accountability.

4. Be Nice: Research has shown that boosting someone else’s happiness boosts your own too. Be friendly. Wear a smile. Be charitable. Lend a helping hand. What goes around really does come around.

Overall Life Satisfaction

5. Develop and Nurture Relationships: A study conducted at the University of Illinois by Diener and Seligman found that happy people tend to have strong friendships and family ties. This comes as no surprise, since we are social creatures, and it’s natural for us to derive joy from the company of others. Cultivate your social skills. Make time for friends and family, especially if those relationships tend to be positive and uplifting.

6. Pursue a Meaningful Career: Inject meaning into your life by learning to follow your passion: that internal compass, guiding you toward fulfillment. Read my synergy series of articles for more information; if you disagree with my approach for discovering purpose, pioneer your own.

7. Ask Yourself Why: “Why” seems to be the critical question for unlocking the hidden purpose and meaning in our lives. Why do you work? Why are you considering marriage? Why do you want to have children? Why are you making a particular decision? Living a particular way? Keep asking yourself this critical question and you just might find a way to answer it in a fulfilling and meaningful way.

8. Set Meaningful Goals: Also key to the concept of a meaningful life is the anticipation that we feel for the things we hope to accomplish in the future. Set meaningful short and long-term goals. You’ll be happier for it, both today and tomorrow.

The quest for a happier life has been recognized by philosphers and psychologists alike as being of the highest caliber, but there’s no question that it’s an ongoing process, more about the journey than the destination. But if the happiness equation is solved on two fronts — the emotional and the circumstantial — the journey can indeed be happier.

Categories: Purpose and Meaning


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