HAPPINESS – there isn’t a human being among us who doesn’t want it. Across all continents, whether rich or poor, man or woman – it’s the desire we all share in common. Yet, for many happiness is so elusive. We indulge in things that bring on a buzz – shopping sprees, box-set binges, boozy blow outs with mates – and yes they do bring pleasure and buzz for a bit. Then it's gone. Like a sugar high – the spike feels good and then it plummets. No wonder we drink too much if we don’t know how to be happy…(considering a liver vacation? Try the OneYearNoBeer challange).
The Structure of Happiness
For lasting happiness we human beings need a combination of things working together. Just as we need a balanced diet featuring macro nutrients of carbs, proteins and fats and micro nutrients of vitamins and minerals for good physical and mental health, similarly we need a balance of hedonic and eudainomic happiness for lasting contentment. Eh – eudai what? Read on….
Hedonic & Eudainomic Happiness
- Hedonic is harnessed by pleasure seeking and escapist activities.
- Eudainomic is harnessed by activities that nurture meaning, mindful engagement and accomplishment.
Hedonic happiness is rewarded by immediate gratification
The buzz of hitting the shops, the pleasure of eating cake, a wild night of sex are all deeply pleasurable and stimulate that ‘immediate gratification’ buzz.
The essence of hedonic happy is a fast buzz that’s short lived and needs a constant supply
Eudaemonic happiness is rewarded by delayed gratification
Studying for a qualification, raising a family, working towards a weight loss goal, being involved in a community and helping others are all examples of something that involves effort and commitment over time. But the rewards are immense and lasting. Such things are challenging at times and tough to stay with, but in the long run bring incredible reward – and a sustained sense of self-regard, fulfilment, satisfaction and contentment.
The essence of eudainomic happy centres in making a contribution, helping others, social-belonging and personal growth.
Eudaemonic and hedonic must co-exist for lasting contentment that can’t be rumbled by the knocks of life. When the ratio is all hedonic pursuits it’s like living on a Mars bar diet – all sugar highs and lows. Hedonic lifestyles experience mood extremes, have little emotional resilience to the knocks of life, and need a constant supply of ‘fixes’ to create a buzz. If we include enough eudaemonic pursuits in the ratio then we will have something more sustaining feeding our happiness and keeping it steady when life dishes out some dirt.
Meet Your Happy Chemicals
The feeling we know as happiness is largely produced by a chemical cocktail in our mind and body.
Our thoughts and actions create reactions within us that pump out chemical juices. These chemical spurts produce all range of feelings from quiet peacefulness, floating bliss, to a happy buzz and energy surges. There are four main happy chemicals each with a role to play. If we live right – combining a mix of hedonic and eudaemonic activities, we will create a harmonious cocktail in our body.
- oxytocin – social bonds & contact, trust, love, comfort, children
- serotonin – social confidence and elevates mood
- endorphin – good buzz & bliss
- dopamine – reward / releases energy / motivation
So mix it up. Get a good supply of hedonic and eudaemonic experiences in your life to fire up your ‘happy chemicals’ in all the right ways. WARNING: Drinking alcohol seriously messes up your body's natural chemical balance and interferes with happiness levels. Booze is classed as depressant by the World Health Organisation. If you're curious about how alcohol free happiness feels do this 28 day challenge.
It’s highly likely you’ve been programmed to believe that the feeling of hedonic happy is the emotional state you are chasing and wanting to maintain. But it’s not sustainable to live only on hedonism. Watch ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ if you need a little clarity on this! True happiness – deep and lasting happiness – feels different. It’s not so brash and showy. It’s a feeling of peace and contentment. You still get the spikes and big buzz moments, but there is a background hum of quiet happiness that is always there. That background isn’t loud and showy. But it shines out from within. You see it in peoples faces and eyes when they have it as a ‘contented glow’.
So happiness could be described as this:
The awareness of frequent and lasting positive emotions and infrequent (although not absent) negative emotions … felt as a lasting and settled experience.
So the last piece in the puzzle is addressing your NATS – negative automatic thoughts.
NATS – negative automatic thought
NATS are common thought habits/mind traps that fuel low mood and anxiety. When you recognise your own NATS (Google NATS) you have the power and choice to change them. Change your thinking and you change your life – and increase the frequency of happy chemical squirts within your mind and body and literally ‘reset’ your body chemistry. Over time you can reduce anxiety and create happiness by training your mind towards more self-empowered thinking habits by:
- learning to catch our thoughts
- asking if they are true
- exploring alternative thoughts/possibilities about a situation
The Happiness Equation
Let’s give all this some short hand:
- Hedonic Happiness (HH)
- Eudaemonic Happiness (EH)
- Happy Chemicals (HC)
- Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATS)
- Lasting Happiness (LH)
HH + EH + HC – NATS = LH
Simple. So live right, get those happy chemicals spurting, address negative thinking and create a lasting happy contentment. Do this, and living AF will be a breeze. Who needs chemical poison to create an unnatural buzz when you’re a master in creating natural highs and happiness!