Pressing Pause Podcast episode 27 We all want to be happy, or do we?
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m here to share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Hello, welcome to episode 27. Today I’m talking about happiness, that should be straight forward enough, shouldn’t it? Except it isn’t because happiness can be quite a loaded word which means different things to different people.
Some people see happiness as all about pleasure, it’s surface deep, short-lived, fleeting. This is what’s known as hedonic happiness where the pleasure is mainly found through external means.
Others use the word happiness to mean wellbeing, it’s deeper, more meaningful and it’s connected with contentment and ongoing life satisfaction. This is closer to the idea of eudaimonic happiness which comes from within rather than outside pleasures. The kind of happiness that most people want to experience is of the eudaimonic rather than hedonic kind. The happiness, joy and contentment that feels bone-deep and comes through finding meaning, human connection and fulfillment in our daily lives.
As well as the definition of what we believe the word happiness to mean, there are a handful of myths, misunderstandings or stumbling blocks that I’ve found can get in the way of how people feel about happiness and their capacity to experience it.
So, one of the first is that you’re born happy or you’re not and it’s not something you can change
It may surprise you to know that you have more influence over your own happiness than you’ve previously given yourself credit for. Research has found that 25-35% of your potential for happiness is determined by your genes. Whether your parents were the glass half-full or half-empty types doesn’t have a huge impact on how you’ll feel. While your gender, education, age, wealth, occupation and geographical location is relevant to how happy you can be it only accounts for around 10-15% of your potential.
Which means that around 50%, depending on which positive psychology researcher you talk to, of how happy you can be is determined by you. How you view events in life, how you react to them, act upon them, how you think about and approach life influences how happy you feel. We each have our own base level of happiness and anyone can increase their level.
I also hear people talking about searching for happiness, it’s a goal to strive for, to chase, which misleadingly suggests that it’s something that you can reach and achieve.
You can pursue a moment of happiness and experience it, but once that moment of pleasure is over you’re back to how you felt before. It’s what’s known as hedonic adaptation. After your basic needs have been met, money and possessions don’t have as great an impact on how happy you feel as you might think. Studies have shown that although lottery winners experience an initial boost in their happiness levels, within a year they return back to their original level.
The happiness that doesn’t come with rainbows and fireworks but rather with a calmer sense of contentment, and lasting joy is an ongoing process that continues throughout our lifetime.
Another common stumbling block is that it’s selfish to think about your own happiness.
So many of us have the view that focusing on our own happiness must mean that we’re self-centred, narcissistic and downright selfish. If it was all we thought about than yes, I might agree with you. But the fact that you’re worried that wanting to be happy yourself could mean you’re selfish indicates you’re unlikely to be the self-absorbed type.
Happy people spread happiness, it really is contagious. Social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler found the “Three Degrees of Influence” which shows the ripple effect of a person’s behaviour. Your positive, happy attitude and actions not only rub off on your close friend, but also their friend, and in turn, their friend, three people removed from you.
We can see the impact on the ripple effect all around us. Whether it’s getting the kids ready for school, in a meeting at work, or at the supermarket checkout, if you’re feeling happy you express that directly or indirectly through your words, tone of voice, facial expressions, posture, actions and being, which others pick up on, absorb themselves and can reflect back into the world. Likewise, if you’re stressed or in a bad mood, those around you can see or feel it too.
Okay the fourth happiness myth I come across is that to be happy you can never be sad.
This brings us back to the difference between hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing. While you’re fully immersed in a happy moment you aren’t sad, but that hedonic kind of pleasure isn’t a permanent state of being. Happiness in terms of eudaimonic wellbeing is about experiencing a range of feelings, not just the positive ones. Denying difficult feelings doesn’t guarantee happiness. How well could you experience calm and ease if you’ve never felt stress or pressure? By knowing how difficulties and sadness feel you can experience joy and contentment.
It also involves experiencing feelings that you may not have readily associated with happiness such as purpose, meaning, fulfillment, and altruism. Positive psychology research has found that by practicing proven methods such as mindfulness and gratitude that help increase the happiness we feel, we also build our resilience. So we’re better able to cope with life’s challenges and difficulties and not necessarily be overwhelmed by the feelings that accompany them.
And then there’s foreboding joy, the idea that if I let myself be happy something bad is bound to happen
We’ve all known what it’s like to feel utterly happy, completely full of joy, and then a moment later be struck with the fear that something will happen to take away the happy feeling and replace it with pain. Brené Brown describes joy as the most terrifying emotion because to experience it we become vulnerable, she says, “When we lose our tolerance to be vulnerable, joy becomes foreboding.”
We think that if we don’t let ourselves feel ‘too happy’, if we keep our joy down to a certain level, that we’re protecting ourselves from the hurt and pain we could experience when life takes a nosedive. But that simply isn’t true. When a loved one is hurt, when we lose a job, when something goes wrong, we don’t feel any less pain because we didn’t allow ourselves to feel love or happiness with that person or in that job. Keeping happiness at arm’s length as a form of protection is misguided, it stops us from living our lives to the fullest now, from experiencing true happiness now.
Instead of allowing fear to take over from joy in those moments, you can practice gratitude. Be thankful for all the things associated with that source of happiness and recognise how grateful you are to know that person, to do that job, to have whatever’s going right go right for you. Not only does it challenge those fearful feelings, it supports the joy you’re feeling and research shows that practicing gratitude increases and deepens the happiness you feel.
Happiness, joy, contentment, wellbeing – whatever word you feel most comfortable using – is something you can create for yourself. It isn’t something that requires stuff, and it isn’t a goal to aim for. It’s not about denying difficult feelings, you’re not selfish to want to feel happy and by experiencing it you won’t make it go away. So the next time you find yourself thinking ‘I’ll be happy when…’ or stopping yourself from feeling too happy pause for a moment and check what story you’re telling yourself. Have a listen to episodes three, seven and 21 too.
Thank you for joining me for Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers. You can find the show notes and other episodes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast along with information on how to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. If you enjoyed Pressing Pause it would mean a huge amount to me if you could leave a review on iTunes because it helps other people find the podcast too.
You can also find lots more to empower you to overthink and worry less and enjoy your life more, including the Nook of Inspiration free resource library and the range of online courses, at gabrielletreanor.com.
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Thanks again for listening, until next time, lovely people.