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Why Seeking Happiness Isn’t Enough?

by Sumbul Syed

Happiness has become such a big part of our lives. Why should it not be? We’re after all seeking happiness in our lives, aren’t we?

Everyone wants to be happy and that makes complete sense. People who are happy have numerous benefits over those who aren’t. Happy people have better relationships, better health and are much more efficient and productive at work.

But what exactly is ‘happiness’?

A lot of times happiness is simply explained as a “subjective well-being”. But a more technical definition is best explained by Sonja Lyubomirsky in her 2007 book “The How of Happiness”. She explains happiness as, “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

But seeking happiness isn’t the complete picture. There’s more to it.

Hedonic adaptation- A double-edged sword:

In psychology there is a concept called “hedonic adaptation” which simply says that our levels of happiness always comes back to where it started from. In other words, our happiness is short term and eventually the levels of happiness always revert towards the ‘happiness baseline’. That is why the smart phone we bought for ourselves thinking it was going to make us the happiest person on this earth doesn’t seem to matter anymore. And after some time, we want a new one. Hedonic adaptation is not limited to positive events. It goes all the way to negative ones as well. Actually, it helps us move forward when we have gone through a bad experience like losing a loved one, getting fired from a job, etc. This is the reason it’s a double edged- sword. Nevertheless, focusing too much on staying happy is not a long road.

A search for happiness is not enough. It needs a company of contentment. Together, they enhance our positive well-being.

Contentment and the two strategies:

In the simplest terms possible, contentment can be defined as a sense of knowledge that things are all okay exactly as they are, right now. Positive psychologists now agree that contentment is being valued a lot across many cultures. It is one of the highest states to cultivate in life. However, contentment still falls short of becoming an integral part of our lives and happiness is still being obsessed over. Daniel Cordaro, an American research scientist and psychologist along with his research team dug into some very old philosophy that dates back to 5,000 years along with 200 years old scientific research. The objective was to get into the core of human nature. After putting hours into the work, two strategies came forward that determines our well-being. The strategies are:

  1. More strategy
  2. Enough strategy

As the name suggests more strategy is a strategy in which we are all seeking more and more of everything: more possessions, more accomplishments, more money, more power, more validation, etc. It is not wrong to have more money than we used to have or the fact that now we are much more accomplished. The real problem comes when ‘more’ starts becoming ‘less’ and even ‘lesser’ with time. For some time only we are happy. After that we all come back to square one and want ‘more’ of it. This strategy doesn’t sustain our well-being for very long.

Another strategy, the enough strategy, is the one where we have a sense of being and having ‘enough’. This is where contentment falls into the picture. When we are content with ourselves and our lives then our well-being comes from looking inward rather than outward. Contentment helps make sure that our attention is being directed more internally than externally to have a better life.

Making contentment a lifelong friend:

A mere knowledge that contentment is important will never make us content beings. We should know how to cultivate it in our daily lives.

1. Practice living in the moment

We humans are programmed to put a lot of focus on our future. That’s why we miss out on living in the moment. It is not easy to live completely in the moment but with practice we can definitely learn to be mindful of the things that are happening around us.

2. Practice gratitude

Gratitude is like a panacea to many of lives’ problems. Being grateful for the things we already have keeps us in check. It helps giving us a better perspective. By practising gratitude on a regular basis we can surely learn to be more content than we used to.

3. Reflect on your unhealthy well-being contingencies

We are all flooded by many unhealthy well-being contingencies majority of the time. We think when we will have a big house or a big car or a latest smart phone or that dream job or millions in our bank accounts, we will be happy. Until then we can’t be happy. This happens because of unhealthy well-being contingencies. In order to cultivate contentment in our lives we should reflect on these contingencies because subconsciously they tell us that we can’t be okay or happy right now.

4. Seek your purpose

Having a sense of purpose in life is very crucial. People who value contentment also value having a purpose. When we have something to look forward to every single day we create our own well-being.

Sources

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/hedonic-treadmill

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_if_you_pursued_contentment_rather_than_happiness

https://markmanson.net/happiness-is-not-enough

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/how-to-be-happy/art-20045714

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