We focus on what quickly fades, when we should be investing in the long term.
There are two kinds of happiness – a fleeting kind we all chase and a lasting kind we often ignore.
When we think of being happy, experts tell us that what we commonly imagine is actually pleasure. It’s the taste of delicious food, the fantasy of winning the lottery or the fallacy that material things can fix our woes.
According to experts interviewed by The New Daily, research shows these pleasures soon fade. Instead, we should also be searching for meaning, a far more stable form of happiness.
“It’s not normal to be yellow smiley face happy all the time. In fact, they’d probably lock you up if you were,” Positive Psychology Institute founder Dr Suzy Green said.
“If you are focussed on that, you are setting yourself up for disappointment, at the very least.”
Quality Life Australia counsellor Dr Wendy Kennedy agreed that happiness, as most of us define it, does not last. According to ongoing Australian research, most of us are ‘happy’ only about 75 per cent of the time.
“The pursuit of happiness as an end state is not really realistic because it’s a fact of life that we’ll have ups and downs and that’s normal,” Dr Kennedy said.
“There’s a lot of confusion there, and sometimes an expectation that happiness is a state you can achieve and stay there forever and a day. As we well know from experience, it doesn’t generally happen.”
Rather than striving to experience this feel-good emotion all the time, we should focus on adding meaning – what Dr Kennedy called “life satisfaction”.
“Hopefully that is where most people spend most of their time.”
While pleasures fade, meaning lasts, Federation University psychology lecturer Dr Liz Temple said.
To find it, strive to give and achieve.
“Your accomplishments at work or in sport or family and relationships actually have more depth to them. While they may be harder and may not always make us ‘happy’, they add more to us over the long term,” Dr Temple explained.
Other examples include:
• building greater self esteem;
• doing selfless acts, such as giving your time or money;
• finding a job that fills you with pride; and
• investing more time in personal relationships.
Fun is still important
Pleasure, defined as ‘hedonistic happiness’ in research, should not be ignored, Dr Temple said.
But, as mentioned above, these things quickly fade. Thus, strategies to make them last should be used.
“If we are always focussed just on meaning, then we never have fun … but in the long run we do need to have those more meaningful aspects,” Dr Temple said.
Last year, The New Daily reported that money can actually buy happiness, provided you buy the right things. You just need to spend it wisely on worthwhile experiences, rather than shiny new things.
Savouring pleasure is also important, another expert said.
“We have one Tim Tam then we want another one and another one. You need to learn to really savour, which means to bring your mindful attention to any of the pleasures to try and get as much joy out of them as you possibly can rather than mindlessly engaging in them,” Positive Psychology Institute’s Dr Green said.
We should aim to savour our pleasures while also finding more meaning, University of New England psychologist Associate Professor Nicola Schutte said.
“I’m not sure if one can make a blanket statement that all people are better off striving towards one or another type of happiness,” she said.
“I think both types of happiness are valuable.”