If you read my first article about happiness, you’re probably thinking, “OK, doc, I get it. But it’s not like I’m actively choosing to be miserable! There must be more to this whole happiness thing.” And you’re right!
First of all, there are different ways to measure happiness. For example, a lot of us think that more money, a better job, more free time or a better golf game will bring us happiness. In the short term, we’re correct. The trouble is, all of those things only make us happy for a short period of time.
In the field of positive psychology, which is literally the study of what makes humans happy, there is a term called hedonic adaptation. Basically what it means is that, because our bodies get used to stimuli and begin to tune them out, we get less happiness and satisfaction out of things like more money as time goes by. Our response to this decrease in happiness is often to think that we just need even more of whatever it was that worked the first time: money, job, etc. The problem, of course, is that we keep adapting to the new stimulus and keep needing even more to get us the feeling we are looking for. It’s a cycle, and we can’t win when we are running around within it. (If you’d like more information on this, there is a great documentary called Happy available on Netflix)
So, what is the alternative? It’s a fancy word called eudaimonia. This is the word used to describe living a happy life in complete alignment with our core values and beliefs. Contrast it with hedonia, which is satisfaction through the pursuit of pleasure, and you see the different kinds of happiness I’m talking about. Eudaimonia brings us back to words that don’t get used a lot in today’s hustle-and-bustle world. Words like integrity, honesty and reliability. Many people might think that those words are synonymous with “boring” and can’t possibly lead to happiness. But consider this example of a friend of mine:
Mark is a terrific salesman who had a job making great money selling specialized medical equipment. He loved seeing his customers and helping them help their patients and helping their offices run optimally. For the first several years at this job, Mark loved it and came home each day feeling happy and fulfilled. Then, the company changed its manufacturer; it began having all its products made in a cheaper factory to help cut costs. The trouble was, they didn’t lower their prices and the products themselves were of lower quality. After that, Mark was faced with his customers, who had grown to trust him, asking him why their equipment was breaking down more often. Mark didn’t have a good answer for them, and he began to dislike his job. He became very unhappy with his life, in general.
One day, Mark and I met for tea and we were talking about how unhappy he’d been recently. When I heard what was going on at work, I said, “It sounds like you’re being asked to work without integrity.” Mark’s response was an emphatic “Yes! That’s exactly what it is. I’ve got to fix THAT.” So, he contacted the management of the company and expressed his concerns about their decreased product quality and the company’s reputation with its customers. When the company was unwilling to change its ways, Mark left to find a job where he could be honest every day.
You see, Mark needed to feel like he was acting with integrity; that he was an honest and trustworthy man. Even if his old company had given him a raise or a company car or a stock share, he still would have been unhappy in the long run, because he felt that he was not being his best self. He needed to pursue eudaimonia.
Your values are probably different than Mark’s. And they might shift in priority level as you go through life or as circumstances change. But once you know what they are, it’s a lot easier to live our lives in alignment with them. Even if you already have a good handle on your values, it’s a good idea to check in with yourself every so often to see if your priorities have shifted.
Whenever I notice that I am experiencing a feeling of unhappiness or depression more than I would like, one of the questions I ask myself is, “Am I living my core values today?” Usually, the answer is, not really. For example, when I used to work in an office where I really didn’t like my boss, I would find myself checking my personal email or Facebook when I didn’t have a pressing task. I could have gone and asked for a new project, but I had a lousy attitude and would just sit there. Eventually I realized that part of the reason I hated my job so much was that I wasn’t doing my best work. When I started giving 100% at the office, I still didn’t like my boss, but I was much happier at the end of each day and I stopped dreading my morning commute.
I encourage you to examine your own life; make the changes you can make to live more in line with your values and see how amazing you feel after a good day of a eudaimonic life!