As we know, science is an ongoing work of questioning, testing, and drawing new conclusions. Things we all learned in school that were
“scientifically proven” might not be considered true anymore because the more we apply the scientific method, the more evidence and new
hypotheses we gain. Now we know bats can actually see…dinosaurs had feathers…Mars has water…Pluto is no longer a planet(I cried
myself to sleep when I first learned of that one). But it just reminds us that science will always be an adaptive process.
What I appreciate about the science of happiness is that it’s actively going through its evolutionary phases as well—from a universally
human point of view. The original definitions of happiness go back to philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, when they considered
the meaning of life. These days we hear terms like positive psychology, subjective well-being, and flourishing being used interchangeably
with the word happiness. In the end, I think subjective is the most operative word. Depending on who we are and where we live in the
world, happiness means different things to different people. But regardless of what we call it, the current definitions and research on
happiness are derived from two perspectives: the hedonic (which focuses on pleasure and pain) and Aristotle’s eudaemonistic (which
focuses on meaning and self-realization).
On the hedonic side, happiness is associated with positive emotions like pleasure, comfort, hope, and inspiration. From this perspective, happiness comes from the presence of positive emotions and the absence of negative ones.
The eudaemonistic side aligns more with Maslow’s hierarchy in that happiness is associated with self-actualization. As Tony [Hsieh] and I learned in Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness, there are a few different types of happiness that speak to the hedonic and eudaemonistic sides. This is how we shared them in Delivering Happiness, based on how sustainable each type is:
Pleasure is the most short-lived type of happiness. Once the stimulus is gone, our happiness level quickly returns to where it was before—
as with watching a funny YouTube video or having a glass of wine (or better yet, both). It’s fun in the moment but fleeting.
The next type—passion—is more desirable because it lasts longer than pleasure. We see it when athletes are “in the zone” or when we’re engrossed in an activity we love so much, we lose sense of time.
The last, most sustainable form of happiness is purpose. It’s what grounds us and lights our North Star at the same time. Living purposefully is the most enduring form of happiness, and I’ll be weaving the idea in extensively throughout the rest of the book.
To sum up, sustainable happiness comes from:
- being aware of how you were born (inherited disposition)
- your hedonic (utilitarian) circumstances
- your eudaemonistic (self-actualization) aspect
Put another way, happiness comes from being authentically true to yourself, feeling your pleasures, flow, and passion, and living your purpose. Older studies told us that we were born at a “set point” of happiness that we inherited and couldn’t change. Newer studies tell us we can improve our levels of sustainable happiness by “investing” in (or working on) ourselves and the community around us.
But putting the science aside for a moment, I believe there’s an art to happiness too. That’s where your own subjective definition of happiness gets defined by you, for you. Mixing the art of your authentic self with science gives the most important definition of them all… because it’s yours and only yours.
For me, happiness is when I don’t overthink, so I can feel. It circulates through my body as it naturally calls out for both the kid and the
wiser soul in me to come out and play. Happiness is being present while I grow and learn in the highs and the lows. It’s when I’m fully opti-realistic—aware of all sides of a situation—with the freedom to make choices with intention, positivity, some grace, and fun, and ultimately
love. It’s waking up knowing that I surround myself with people I love and that I’m doing the work to make the day’s moments count. I’m happiest when I can absorb the scene I’m in—whether it’s one of endless stars and sky, lush greens and changing seas, or the tap of a raindrop or rays of sun on my skin—and feel the immensity of being one with it all.
In this moment, how would you define happiness for yourself?
There’s no right or wrong. The beauty of defining your own happiness is that it’s as distinctive as your own fingerprint. Only you can imprint
it, and no one can take it away.
Excerpted from BEYOND HAPPINESS: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose and People for Growth and Impact by Jenn Lim. Copyright © 2021 by Jennifer Lim. Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.