Making the world a better place. Raising children. Creating amazing works. There are many things that give our life meaning and help us feel like there was value in our short time on this earth.
But, if there is one goal in life that we can all agree on – one goal that is inarguably the purpose of living – it is that we hope that by the end of our lives, we can look back and say that we were happy. Happiness is the most important part of living.
Still, while many of us want to be happy, we can sometimes struggle to define what happiness actually is. There are things that make us “feel good,” but is “feeling good” the same thing as happiness? Often times, the answer is no.
Pleasure and Happiness – Instant Gratification vs Long Term Contentment
It is important to be happy. But understanding what happiness really is will be important. There are many things in life that provide something that makes us think we’re happy. For example, buying a new shirt from the store, one night stands, partying with friends, or staying up late to watch TV.
These are not examples of activities that make us happy. These are examples of activities that give us pleasure. Pleasure can be talked about using happy terms (“I enjoyed it! It was fun!”) but it is not happiness as a concept. It is a temporary feeling of pleasure as a result. As soon as the TV goes off, or the one night stand leaves, or the party is over, the positive feelings go away, and you’re back to feeling however you felt prior to the action.
We know this, instinctually. If shopping made you happy, you wouldn’t need to keep shopping. If drugs made you happy, you wouldn’t need to keep doing drugs. They provide you with pleasure, but the effects don’t last the way that true happiness does. Instant gratification is not the same thing as finding feelings long term happiness and contentment. Those start from within.
How to Find Real, Long Term Happiness
Now, it is misleading to say that actions themselves can’t lead to some form of happiness. Going back to the shopping example. We know that people that shop *for* their happiness often find themselves unhappy. But we also know that people that, when a person has never cared about their appearance, buying clothing that helps them feel confident can boost self-esteem AND happiness.
Similarly, there are activities that can provide pleasure and happiness. For example, if you love hiking, and you hike up a new, difficult, and exciting hike, you’re fulfilling a value you have, achieving long term goals, and doing something you enjoy. This is a way that an activity can provide pleasure and happiness.
But part of living a more content life involves understanding and recognizing what these differences are. It involves making decisions about the activities that you engage in and the changes you make for yourself that help you obtain long term happiness. It is taking care of yourself, performing activities that are directly related to happiness such as:
- Eating Healthier
- Obtaining Meaningful Friendships
- Creating and Managing Long Term Goals
- Removing Negative Influences
Happiness involves actually (and finally) addressing some of the anxieties, traumas, and other issues that you have struggled with in the past, so that you can focus instead on healthier experiences and behaviors in the future. It is very easy to look at happiness in terms of the here and now, but that can cause you to make decisions that prioritize pleasure over contentment.
It is also about recognizing happiness as a lifelong goal, and making sure that you’re focused on obtaining that as a goal. That is not to say that you should not try to enjoy your time now. It is also dangerous to wait to obtain happiness until retirement. The future is not a guarantee.
But, what you should do, is take the time to really learn who you are. What do you value? What is it that would make you happy in the future? How can you live in such a way that you are able to maximize your life both now and in the future?
Learning this new mindset, understanding the difference between pleasure and happiness, and taking the time to rethink your priorities and how you spend your time and money can be the secret to living a life that you can be happy with.
Therapy for Happiness
People turn to therapists when they have a mental health problem, like anxiety, depression, or addiction. Our psychologists are here to treat those conditions, as they an absolutely be issues that hold you back from so many positive life experiences.
But therapy isn’t just about treating a condition or diagnosis. It is about making your life noticeably better. Our therapists can work with you to find ways to make you happier, to help you understand yourself more, and to make changes in your life that prioritize happiness over pleasure. Contact us today to learn more.