Whether you’ve recently come into a boatload of unstructured free time, or you’ve become overwhelmed with more responsibilities, there’s a good chance you’re spending some time and mental energy taking stock of your life. Once your external needs for food, shelter, and safety have been secured, you’ll start asking yourself some version of this basic question: What can I stop, start, or continue doing in my life to be more happy?
If you’d like to take time to be more intentional about sustaining or increasing your own happiness, a possible first step is to have a clear understanding of what happiness is. In their book “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization,” authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey differentiate between two different definitions of happiness:
“Happiness as a state, characterized by pleasure; a banishing of pain, suffering, and boredom; a sense of engagement and meaning through the experience of positive emotions and resilience.”
Examples of this kind of happiness include playing fun games, eating great food, being in conversation that stimulates you or connects you with others, having the time and energy you need to accomplish daily tasks or pursue passions, and receiving praise or validation for something you’ve worked hard on.
“Happiness as a process of human flourishing…an experience of meaning and engagement but in relation to the satisfactions of experiencing one’s own growth and unfolding, becoming more of the person one was meant to be, bringing more of oneself into the world.”
Any process of development invariably causes some pain and suffering. The happiness you’ll experience here is derived from from the presence and self-awareness gained by taking risks, failing, learning from mistakes, and coming out the other side with new awareness, abilities, and unprecedented perspective.
There is no need to favor one experience of happiness over the other, one isn’t inherently better or worse. The key is to recognize what kind of happiness you are presently in need of, and what actions or behaviors will bring you the emotion or challenge that will satisfy it. Maintaining attention to both will ultimately result in more self-awareness and balance.
Want to Learn More About Happiness?
The people studying the science of happiness are here to help you get to the bottom of what gives human beings a sense of meaning, purpose, and joy. Here are a few ways to get on their bandwagon.
The Science of Well-Being is a free, 10-week online course from Yale University. Here’s their description: “In this course you will engage in a series of challenges designed to increase your own happiness and build more productive habits. As preparation for these tasks, Professor Laurie Santos reveals misconceptions about happiness, annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do, and the research that can help us change. You will ultimately be prepared to successfully incorporate a specific wellness activity into your life.”
UC Berkeley’s The Science of Happiness – free, 8-week, online course curated and taught by UC Berkeley professors through the university’s Greater Good Science Center. I took this one about a year ago, and enjoyed the content, pace, and ability to go through it with as much or as little interaction with other online learners as I wanted. It offers a flexible timeline for completing the material, averages approximately 2 hours/week of work.
Feeling cynical about this subject? So was Brad Rassler, who took UC Berkeley’s The Science of Happiness course and wrote about it in The Guardian. He was ultimately underwhelmed, yet able to distill what he learned into 13 steps to becoming happy.
7 Habits of Happy People – Only have 5 minutes to take in where you should be directing your attention to cultivate happiness in your life? The nonprofit organization Pursuit of Happiness offers this quick reference (with links to deeper dives on the 7 habits) that can help jump-start your journey. They also offer a free mini-course on the science of happiness, taught by an Oxford-doctorate instructor.
If books are your thing, check out this review of what’s on the shelves from Positive Psychology: 15 Best Happiness Books and Are They Worth Your Time?