What is Happiness - and Why Pursuing the Wrong Type of Happiness Can Be Catastrophic
Happiness is a very popular topic - both in contemporary society - and also in our office at AG Thrive. I often hear people claiming that happiness is the key to living the good life - and/or that happiness should be the greatest objective or priority to be pursued.
As such, I wanted to explore what happiness is, why chasing it can have catastrophic consequences - and provide a model for happiness that has transformed my life personally - and the model I coach my clients to practice - that I believe will create a genuine, healthy, sustainable, and enduring Psychology of Happiness.
Here are two models of happiness that I see as being very relevant and pervasive in my practice, on social media, and as aspirational concepts in present day society.
Two Avenues to Experience Happiness
This type of happiness is generally described as being a more subjective experience of happiness -and the goal is to experience a surplus of positive emotions and/or good feelings - and to have as few negative emotions as possible. In this model of happiness - activities, relationships, and experiences that create positive feelings (joy, laughter, passion, contentment, connection, creativity, gratitude, etc.) are the pathway that lead to happiness - and one should try to reduce or eliminate people, places, activities, etc., that are associated with or lead to negative feelings (sadness, anger, stress, fear, anxiety, boredom, etc.)
This type of happiness is related to self-actualizing pursuits; choosing goals that are aligned with one’s values and beliefs, feeling challenged and engaged with your life’s work, contributing to the wellbeing of society, being connected to positive relationships, feelings of self-acceptance, and living a life of perpetual and purposeful growth. In this model of happiness - it’s assumed that the feelings or sensations of subjective happiness are derived from living a life of self-actualization.
Okay - just going off the name of my business - and the brand logo of Growing the Life you Want - it may seem obvious that I advocate for eudaimonic happiness as the better model to pursue and practice. And - for the most part that would be accurate - but with the caveat that I believe incorporating elements of both models is the best path to happiness.
Risks/Rewards of Both Models
Hedonic Model - having the ability to experience a surplus of positive feelings - and knowing how to prime yourself to be in a positive mental state - are important factors in establishing a Psychology of Happiness. Having said this - the pursuit of hedonic happiness can lead to some unhealthy outcomes. This model is vulnerable to exploitation - as marketing companies are well aware of - and can lead you to believe that happiness can be purchased. On social media - you have people comparing the totality of their lives to a curated snapshot of what someone wants you to think about their life on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., (with the byproduct being damaged self-esteem for many people). Furthermore, if individuals prioritize only this model of happiness - it can lead to them chasing feeling good - which leaves many people feeling miserable.
Eudaimonic Model - which I do believe is a significantly better way to achieve and experience happiness that is sustainable and enduring. Having said this, sometimes it’s totally healthy and awesome to engage in activities that provide a big boost of hedonic happiness (like going to Lakers games for me, attending concerts, getting massages, going dancing, hanging out with that good time friend who takes you out of your comfort zone - but not out of your value zone!).
Okay - as promised - here is the model of happiness that I coach my clients to implement and practice:
The PERMA Model of Happiness or wellbeing - by the Godfather of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman:
P= Positive emotions - feeling good model (healthy hedonic happiness)
E= Engagement - where you are completely absorbed in an activity - a Flow state
R= Relationships - being authentically connected to others
M= Meaning - feeling of contribution to a purpose or cause bigger than yourself
A= Achievement - that nice hit of dopamine you get from accomplishing something
The PERMA model incorporates the value of feeling good - but also demonstrates that wellbeing and happiness derive from living a life connected to your purpose, strengths, values, priorities, etc., and being connected to positive relationships and engaging activities.
The Authentic Growth Blueprint that we discussed last time - is really a masterclass on eudaimonic happiness - and we explore and uncover some really powerful, practical, and healthy ways to practice hedonic happiness in a few of our Thrive in 5 videos (like how to get out of negative feeling states; the power of playfulness and fun; optimism ; etc.).
In conclusion - happiness truly is a worthy and ideal goal - and the benefits of becoming happy can elevate your quality of life in numerous and extraordinary ways. However, pursuing feelings of temporary happiness- while not being anchored to your values - is a recipe for disaster. On the other hand - connecting hedonic and eudaimonic happiness to your core values, character strengths, and priorities is your best pathway to establish a healthy, sustainable, and enduring Psychology of Happiness - and an important part of the Grow the Life you Want Model at AG Thrive!