Happiness is an energy that seems to ebb and flow, yet, it can be strengthened and honed within each of us to permeate our lives with a gratifying tide. There may be fleeting happiness that focuses on satisfaction of achieving material goods and momentary whims, but this type of happiness is difficult to maintain with regularity.
The type of happiness that can be polished with practice is summarized in a word which Aristotle coined as “human flourishing”: eudemonia [yoo-di-moh-nee-uh]. This word captures the essence of true happiness by creating focus on a meaningful life. Imagine the difference in the happiness one experiences from a wonderful meal with all of the perfect qualities and an effort put forth in community service to help others in a time of need. The latter is eudemonia.
One of the ways to ensure a meaningful life is through dwelling within authentic happiness. Positive psychological studies show that there are specific strengths inherent in all of us that are most important to focus on to increase one’s happiness set point. The strengths of zest, hope, curiosity, love and gratitude ensure lasting, meaningful happiness versus momentary pleasure. Research on happiness has also shown that there is half of the happiness picture we can control and half over which we are powerless. Since this is the case, it is up to each of us to decide whether we are going to look at the glass as half empty or half full.
In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. states that 50 percent of our happiness is determined by genetics; 10 percent is determined by our environment which includes our living conditions and work environment, and the final 40 percent is choice. Of all of the strengths a person can possess, one can work to sharpen and measure one’s happiness level by engaging in gratitude. Gratitude is a virtue one can sharpen like a tool toward achieving joy and happiness. We can keep a gratitude journal, writing down very specific items that add depth to our lives and giving thanks for those things.
We can also initiate a gratitude visit. This process entails considering someone from the past who has helped create a better life for us whom we might not have properly thanked. By writing a thank-you note to this person and being as specific as possible about the deed and how their kindness affected life, an unfolding occurs. This unfolding allows for deep sustained happiness versus the hedonic treadmill on which many of us are running.
We live in a world where there is a hunger for more pleasure, yet this superficial pleasure is a dopamine trigger that never fills the cup completely. Our goal in life is to find great meaning. As Mark Twain said, “To get the full value of a joy, you must have someone to divide it with.” Sending out gratitude and taking in sustained happiness is the epitome of Authentic Happiness.