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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Matthews

What is Happiness?

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

The idea of happiness is thrown around a lot with many of us wanting to have or experience more of it. We pick up messages that we swallow whole on what happiness is and how it should be. Imagined happiness can become intoxicating with grand ideas on what it will be like. Common messages start with “I’ll be happy when…” I get that promotion… when I get that new car… when I find a partner. These messages defer your happiness to external circumstances that are talked up by inner gremlin voices inflating your, often unconscious, expectations.

Happy IN my life and happy WITH my life

With this exposure to such risk, it is so important to take a step back and understand what happiness is. Through understanding your flavour of happiness you grow your ability to tone down the gremlins and live more consciously into your own personal flavour of life. So what is happiness?

In exploring this I was introduced to Sonja Lyubomirsky (Ph.D.) through The Happiness Lab, presented by Dr Laurie Santos. Sonja has been exploring the science of happiness for most of her research career and has written books on her findings: “The how of Happiness” and “The Myths of Happiness”. The reason she studies the science of happiness is, “because most people believe that happiness is meaningful, desirable, and an important, worthy goal, because happiness is one of the most salient and significant dimensions of human experience and emotional life, because happiness yields numerous rewards for the individual, and because it makes for a better, healthier, stronger society”. I find Sonja’s reasoning inspiring and it reaffirms my drive and curiosity to understand happiness.

In the first episode of The Happiness Lab Laurie summarises Sonja’s definition of happiness as, how happy are you IN your life and how happy are you WITH your life. When I first heard this it felt simple and then I had to do a mental double take on what was being said. Happy IN your life talks about your moment to moment experience of life relating the the frequency and ability to experience moments of happiness. Happiness WITH your life is from(Relates to?) taking a step back and looking at your life’s timeline and where that line is pointing looking forward. What are you recalling about your overall experience of your life to date and how are you with the trajectory of your life?

It’s like being on a road trip sitting in your car. Are you happy? Are you sharing the time with important people, or enjoying a solo trip? Do you have snacks that tickle your fancy and music that makes you sing with rapture? Or is the air conditioning not working, snacks forgotten at home and your travel companion telling you same story for the umpteenth time? And how is the journey going? Been trough some beautiful landscapes or rough roads that threaten to burst tyres? How’s the journey left ahead looking? Fuel tank full with a trustworthy GPS? Or is the GPS connection giving out?

Your journey of happiness

Another tool that I have found to be valuable is from the book “Solve for Happy” by Mo Gawdat. It is a great book detailing Mo’s journey of defining a way to “engineer your path to joy”. The foundation of his work is the Happiness equation which is: Happiness is greater/equal to your perception/experience of an event less your expectations of how the event would have been.

The Happiness Equation, Mo Gawdat

Mo adds that the tricky bit is “it’s not the event that makes us unhappy; it’s the way we think about it that does”. The book guides you through great insight in aspects that are at play regarding expectations. The example that comes to mind is of friends telling me I have to see this great movie, and being disappointed. Or, being told not to bother with a rubbish movie and loving it… sometimes I have to double check that we saw the same movie!?

Why is it useful to know this? For me, having a framework to help take a step back or hold things at arms length is important to disentangle the emotion and baggage of situations and invite a form of objectivity. Through this objectivity it is useful to notice: “Is there something I want to be different in this moment?” or is more to do with “I would the trajectory of my life to be different?” These tools are valuable in helping me make sense of current and past experiences and what I am seeing more is using them proactively at the beginning of tasks and engagements to help be present and experience my personal flavour of life in the here and now.

It is empowering to reality check and then see what are the things you would like to take on to make changes in your life. With this combination of tools and practice it is invaluable to living into your own personal flavour of life. If you would like to engage with me to dig deeper into your own journey, feel free to contact me, or book a free chemistry session with me now.

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