For years, happiness was seen as a “touchy feely” topic that many believed was a genetic gift for only a chosen few. In other words, you were either born to be happy or not. Thankfully, due in large part to the relatively new field of Positive Psychology, people like Martin Seligman (a pioneer in “happiology”) have devoted their life’s work to scientifically proving that happiness really is something that everyone can achieve, and sustain.
In my last blog, I introduced you to a concept known as Gross National Happiness (click here), an entirely new way of measuring the productivity of our country and its citizens. With the current emphasis in America on Gross Domestic Product, we are failing to recognize the simple fact that humans are emotional beings, not robots, and will therefore be much more productive when given an opportunity to learn to navigate, or manage, their emotions. In the work I do with students, I refer to this process as “self-smarts”, or emotional intelligence.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to mistake authentic happiness for the empty, short-term kind that is glorified in the media. Below is a brief description of three types of happiness, only one of which results in real, sustainable change.
Temporary happiness. Everyone has experienced the feeling associated with the purchase of material items. Whether it’s that brand new pair of shoes that matches your outfit perfectly or the new car you dreamed of owning for years, none of it will guarantee sustainable happiness. Sure the happiness might last for weeks, or even months, but by then you will more than likely be on a quest for the next best thing.
Blind happiness. This is the “rose-colored” glasses version of happiness. Instead of seeing something for what it is (reality) and exercising hope and optimism in order to improve the situation, the rose-colored glasses paint the prettiest picture possible, all the while ignoring reality. It’s like seeing a yard full of weeds, then imagining they aren’t there. Guess what? The weeds haven’t gone anywhere, nor have your circumstances.
Authentic happiness. This is the real deal, thus the name authentic. This form of happiness is not about being blind to the negative circumstances that may exist; it’s about embracing the idea that we can actually do something about it. Unlike the previously mentioned forms of happiness, authentic happiness is something that is cultivated over time; it’s like a muscle that must be developed through a process of consistent practice. Some refer to this process as “mental fitness”. Shawn Achor, another well-known happiologist, wrote a wonderful book titled Before Happiness, in which he outlines the 5 hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustaining positive change. I highly recommend this book as a springboard for your happiness journey.