A: The typical sense of happiness that most of us have – called hedonic happiness – is based on the notion that if we get what we want we will be happy. We are brought up to believe that if we get the things that we think will make us happy and create the circumstances that will make us happy, then we will be happy all of the time.
Unfortunately life blows this sense of happiness to smithereens. If only we could keep our boss from firing us, our spouse divorcing us, and the car accident from happening... The truth is hedonic happiness is unsustainable.
While you may feel initial happiness if you find a way to keep your job or your wife, studies have shown that this hedonic circumstantial happiness will not last more than three months.
What does that leave us with?
A chance to be completely, sustainably happy, that’s what!
Since you can’t guarantee circumstantial happiness, you shouldn’t rely on it. I have been through and live with some pretty poor circumstances – being overweight, ugly, poor, divorced and chronic pain – but I still manage to be happy every single day because I don’t depend on hedonic happiness.
In October 2007, Shankar Vedantam did an article for the Washington Post about a man who was left paralyzed from a horrific bike accident. Despite his terrible circumstance, this man was happy and outliving all of the death predictions made by his doctors. His state of mind was the only thing he had going for him, and it was enough to keep him going.
To think that you can adopt a mindset and achieve lasting happiness is empowering. If it’s all in your head, then you have control over it!
Positive psychology as a field is still in its infancy, but already there are three principles that are key to sustainable happiness.
1. Listen to the truth in your heart.
2. Know and use your strengths.
3. Have a sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
Empower yourself, take responsibility for your sustainable happiness, make the decision and begin your journey to lasting happiness. It’s only three steps away.