Thursday, April 5, 2012

Do You Know What Happiness Is?

Aahh, the definition of happiness.

I always get a smirk on my face when I think about this because the funny thing is that no one knows how to define happiness!  
No one person can say, “I know the definition of happiness” and get everyone else’s agreement.  Happiness means different things to different people! At one level you know as much as I do -- you either are happy or you are not!  Maybe you are more nonchalant in your moods, and even you know you are leaning one way or another.

The truth is since our society has been so focused on deriving happiness from external sources, it lost touch with the real true meaning of the emotion and way of being. This is unfortunate because if you don't understand what happiness is, how are you going to move forward to achieve it?

So to help you gain an understanding of what happiness is, I am going to share with you Dr. Bob Nozik’s (Nozik, 2004) definitions of happiness. I have found these definitions in alignment with the type of happiness I teach.  Dr. Bob was not happy when he studied happiness for twenty years. Now he is happy all the time, every day, no matter what!  As of this year he has been happy every day for twenty years straight!  That means that I am bringing you definitions of happiness from a medical doctor who has experienced being unhappy and has discovered how to be happy every day!

Three Types of Happiness:

So there are three forms of happiness I will explain for you.  There is ordinary happiness, lasting happiness, and spiritual happiness.  

1. Ordinary happiness is the type of happiness we all experience at some point in our lives.  It is given to us from external stimulus.  I love the example of the secret admirer who sends you flowers. It makes you happy, right?!  But think about how long that happiness lasts.  Not very long, right?  After receiving your flowers you could potentially get stuck in traffic, get hungry, and fight with your significant other and be in a bad mood, all within an hour.  My point: Ordinary happiness is stimulated by external sources, it is fleeting, and it is not sustainable.  Even if you buy a new car, new car happiness only lasts for about a month, according to research.  According to science, this sort of happiness is achieved by finding out what circumstances make you happy and participating in those circumstances as often as possible.  Science calls this type of happiness hedonic happiness.  You may know it as hedonism.  It is defined as good feelings resulting from pleasant sensations and material possessions. It is all about the self and self-interest. That is the meat of it.  This type of happiness is great, and I have nothing against it at all.  I want you to be really clear on the idea that hedonic happiness is not sustainable beyond three months maximum. (Lyubomirsky, Kasri, Chang, & Chung, 2006) I understand that all of my circumstances are not always in my control and even if for some reason I have the illusion that I have all of my circumstances under control this study in 2006 (Lyubomirsky et al.) proved that even if we have all of the circumstances we want in our life, we will need change by that three month deadline.  Therefore, we will be unhappy again due to our circumstances.  The only thing that Lyubomirsky et al. points out that will lead us to sustainable happiness is a specific mindset (that I teach!).

2. Eudaimonic happiness was introduced in the psychology research in 2001. Science says that eudaimonic happiness is about doing good -- doing what we are best at in serving society. It is about self and others. This is what Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, calls authentic happiness. Eu-daim-onic breaks down into “nature of a good spirit” in Latin and Greek origin.  This type of happiness dates back to the days of Aristotle; where positive psychology is rooted. The basic tenants upholding this type of happiness are your authenticity, your strengths, and having meaning and purpose in life. (Deci & Ryan, 2001) Through my learning from many sustainable happiness experts and through my own experience, I have come to understand eudaimonic happiness to be sustainable.  Only you know if you are using your strengths, being authentic and having meaning and purpose in life.

3. Chaironic happiness is about being good -- being at peace with the self, with others, and with God or the cosmos. It is based on developing our innermost being and core values. It can be called spiritual or transcendental happiness, because we can experience it even when we are on our death bed or suffering from terminal cancer or in the midst of adversity. It is the kind of happiness experienced by Zen masters and individuals during peak experiences. The 14th Dalai Lama tried to teach us this in the course the Art of Happiness.

To make things simple for yourself you can think of

Eudaimonic happiness = Sustainable (lasting) happiness
Chaironic happiness = Spiritual happiness

When you are experiencing sustainable and spiritual happiness, you have a warm and fuzzy feeling inside you that is a combination of joy and contentment.  It is something you experience, for example, when you are “happy” to see a friend or loved one that you have not seen in a while.  This happiness is inside of you, deep inside of you, and it is located in your heart center. Sustainable happiness is with all of us all of the time. We have access to it at any moment. We don’t have to wait for that special person, that special place, or that special thing to give us the happiness we are dying for!

If you need help accessing this happiness deep inside of you, Visit my Self-Help Store for more tools!

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Dr. Aymee Coget, a widely-known happiness expert, has more than 15 years of experience in positive psychology. Through the Happiness Makeover™, a program developed by Coget, she teaches people how to achieve happiness and handle life's challenges. She also serves as CEO and founder of the American Happiness Association, a science-backed nonprofit designed to educate individuals and organizations about how to be happier, and was nominated for CNN Hero of the Year in 2011.  

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