by Anne Parker, MA, MHSA, Miraval
We have been taught that happiness is the absence of unhappiness. This is a very limited view. In psychology we talk about two kinds of happiness. The differences in these two kinds of happiness are identified by the Greek terms to describe them – hedonia and eudaimonia.
Hedonia is the kind of happiness that comes from things, sensory pleasure, stimuli that “make us happy”. There is nothing inherently wrong with this kind of pleasure-based happiness. In fact, mindfully noticing and savoring these happy moments and experiences is very important to our overall sense of well-being. However, as the term hedonism (our English word derived from hedonia) suggests, there are significant drawbacks to this kind of happiness.
First, the hedonia kind of happiness is fleeting. Its effects are always temporary. This can lead to what is called the “hedonic treadmill” – needing more and more of the same stimulus to produce the same pleasurable feeling. For example, even though we are told that dark chocolate is good for us, do you stop at the recommended one square and fully enjoy it? Or, does eating one square create a craving for more?
Second, the sources of hedonic happiness are external to us and, therefore, usually not within our control. If we have to wait for a particular something to occur to feel happy, we often just get frustrated waiting. If we pin our happiness on someone else doing what we want, that is even more out of our control. Hedonia makes our happiness dependent on some thing or somebody else.
Eudaimonia is the broader and deeper kind of happiness. Eudaimonia translates as ‘being true to your inner self’ or ‘manifesting the divine spirit’. This kind of happiness is nurtured and experienced from within. It is more than just a good feeling. Eudaimonia is cultivated through contentment, satisfaction, a sense of meaning, loving connections in life, and is very personal. We can experience eudaimonic happiness even when there are negative stressors and sources of unhappiness present.
Positive psychology has identified 8 primary traits of happy people.
- nurture and enjoy relationships with family and friends
- are comfortable expressing gratitude and acknowledging the positive
- easily offer help and assistance to others; practice compassion
- practice optimism; see positive potential in uncertainty instead of just fearing it
- savor pleasures and engage in the present
- are physically active
- are committed to personal goals and values
- resiliently ride the waves of the inevitable stressors, crises, and tragedies.
Developing these traits supports your experience of eudaimonia or true happiness. Will you make these traits your focus of action?