For as long as we have existed, humans have found themselves in pursuit of the elusive state referred to as happiness. While we are all privy to the formula, and can find it anywhere we look, few of us have the courage to trade in what immediately feels good for the patience and perseverance it takes to attain an enduring state of fulfillment.
A review of ancient philosophical teachings will show us that happiness is more than just the positive feelings that come along with it. According to Aristotle, finding sustained happiness is a life-long pursuit – attained by living virtuously, embodying our greatest strengths, and becoming the most authentic versions of ourselves.
If we place happiness on a spectrum, we find pleasure (or hedonic happiness) on one end and gratification (or eudaemonist happiness) on the other. While hedonic pursuits may deliver immediate pleasure and feelings of happiness, they come with a high cost. The happiness derived from sensorial activities like drinking alcohol, surfing the Internet, or going shopping is fleeting – eventually leaving you feeling lower and much more exhausted than when you began. Here, you will find yourself in an endless cycle of pleasure seeking behaviours followed by overwhelming feelings of emptiness.
In the middle of the spectrum exist actions and activities that have the potential to increase our levels of fulfillment exponentially. These include investment in our physical body with the intention of achieving optimal health, and cultivating strong relationships with friends and family. If we were to swap the tempting hedonic grab bag of instant pleasure for these more meaningful pursuits, we would already find ourselves improving and feeling better.
Arriving at the other end of the spectrum, we discover eudaemonic happiness – the kind that, if cultivated, will deliver the highest degree of lasting and fulfilling happiness. So why do most of us rarely stay here long enough to feel these effects, despite the promising outcome? It isn’t as quick, easy, or fun as its hedonistic counterparts.
As Aristotle put it, this kind of happiness encompasses a long list of noble pursuits…
Inner development and self acceptance are one way that we can work toward this more fulfilled sense of happiness. Long-lasting love and happiness start from within and activities like going to therapy, journaling, meditating, and attending workshops will help you to get started on your path.
Other central virtues described by Aristotle include gratitude, liberality – kindness, big-heartedness, and generosity – and integrity. One of the last virtues, integrity, is a big one. What does it mean to live a life of integrity? At its most basic, integrity means doing what you say you will do, saying what you mean, and living out your highest values with strong conviction. Integrity may not be flashy, but it is imperative in achieving mental wellness.
Finally, we arrive at the biggest, most incredibly predictable and reliable source of long-term happiness – something so simple that it almost sounds unreal.
It’s just being.
Not having or wanting, craving or gushing. Just being. Right here and right now. Finding a state of contentment with who/what/where we are at any given moment.
In closing, I offer you this: Take a look at the spectrum and identify what ratio of your daily activities reside at the lower end of the spectrum. Then, little by little, take steps to make a conscious swap for pursuits which live at the middle and highest end of the spectrum.
-Author: Kristina Dragnea, Registered Psychotherapist, Practice Owner of Mindful Maelstrom Whole Health Collab