Are you chasing the right type of happiness?


This essay first appeared in my newsletter, The Weekly Pep Talk. If you’d like to subscribe for a big old dose of positivity in your inbox every Sunday, you can sign up here.

In the past few weeks I’ve been taking a course to help me deepen my knowledge around happiness coaching. One of the first things we’ve been learning about is the two different types of happiness, known as hedonic happiness and eudaimonic happiness.

Hedonic happiness is perhaps the one we are all most familiar with. It’s rooted in the idea that increased pleasure and decreased pain leads to happiness. Hedonic happiness is often related to the idea of instant gratification - the sort of happiness we feel when we get good feedback at work or eat a delicious meal, for example. But this type of happiness can also be fleeting and hard to sustain - it requires a constant source of excitement and fun (as well as a lack of any struggle or tedium) in order to maintain a steady level of wellbeing.

Eudaimonic happiness on the other hand is all about the happiness that comes as a result of having purpose or experiencing personal growth. This type of happiness is all about contributing to something bigger, realising your potential and experiencing all of the rich experiences and emotions that life has to offer. It might not feel as intense in the moment, but it’s much easier to sustain and is less dependent on external circumstances.

Both types of happiness are important to a life well lived, but what’s interesting is that studies have found that people who prioritise eudaimonic happiness over hedonic happiness tend to have a greater level of overall wellbeing, which tends to manifest as better health and a greater sense of satisfaction with their lives.

And I found this really interesting. Because so often, when we look at how we can improve our lives, we focus on the components that relate to hedonic happiness. We think about the trips we’d like to take or the jobs we’d like to have. We believe we’ll be happier when we get a payrise, or when we lose 10lbs. We focus on increasing the fun and decreasing the pain or struggle.

But what the research tells us is that we should be focussing more on the components that make up eudaimonic happiness in order to give ourselves the best shot of being happy and satisfied with our lives. We should be striving to find purpose in our work, to contribute to our communities, to challenge and push ourselves in the name of personal growth. It’s not about filling our lives with as much fun as possible, it’s about experiencing the full spectrum of emotions that life has to offer, and being a part of something bigger than ourselves.

And so, as we approach the midpoint of the year and start to think about what we’d like the rest of 2019 to hold, ask yourself - are you chasing the right type of happiness? Are your goals rooted in gratification and validation, as opposed to purpose and connection? And if so, how can you begin to embrace the eudaimonic approach to happiness and raise your overall levels of wellbeing?

Give yourself permission to try a different approach - I’ve got a sneaky feeling that it might just be what the world needs right now.