“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Abraham Lincoln
From time immemorial, human beings have been pursuing happiness and well-being. Although definitions abound, the one that has stood the test of time is the concept of eudaimonia, usually understood in terms of flourishing or thriving. Eudaimonia can be compared to hedonism, understood typically as the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of pain or discomfort.
Often, we set our sights on a goal (e.g., college degree), object (e.g., house), or state of being (e.g., married) and tell ourselves that once we achieve this end state, we will be happy. Once I get that degree, then I’ll be satisfied. As soon as I can buy a house, I’ll be happy. If only I can find the “right one” and get married, then life would be content. And you know what? You’re right…if you define happiness in terms of hedonism.
When we base our happiness on outcomes, “things” we pursue, we can absolutely expect a temporary boost in happiness once we get that “thing.” However, we can just as certainly expect that happiness to diminish over a relatively short period of time, our happiness levels to return to what they were before getting that “thing,” and a return of the desire to pursue some other “thing” in an effort to regain the happiness we experienced before. This cycle of dissatisfaction/wanting, pursuing, getting, happiness/pleasure, dissatisfaction/wanting…is known as the Hedonic Treadmill.
To experience eudaimonia, we need to base our happiness and well-being on more predictable, consistent factors than the attainment of goals or obtainment of objects. Instead, happiness must stem from our everyday experiences, from what’s happening in the present moment. Happiness must come from what we pay attention to and appreciate the here and now. The present moment is where thriving and flourishing occur.
Today, periodically, take time to evaluate your mood. If you recognize that you’re not as happy as you’d like to be, pause and notice something in your immediate environment that you appreciate. Or, bring to mind something or someone in your life you’re truly grateful for. Focus on this thing or individual for just a few minutes, and then re-evaluate your mood. Are you happier? These everyday things that can bring us immediate joy are always accessible. Therefore, happiness is always accessible. We just need to decide to access it.