Happiness is an elusive concept. Some people use happiness as a goal, while others use it as motivation.
You might be familiar with happiness as a concept.
You trudge through life doing one unpleasant thing after the next, telling yourself you’re going to be happy SOMEDAY. You’ll just make this small effort, achieve this thing or that, and then you’ll finally be HAPPY. Simple, right?
But the thing is, happiness is not only an end result, it’s also a driver. You do a lot of things because you believe they’re going to make you happy.
You buy proprieties, book expensive holidays, and spend your hard-earned money on things you don’t really need because you’re CONVINCED they’ll make you happy.
And after the holidays pass and your new things are not as useful as you thought they were, you’re back to square one. You’re looking for SOMETHING that will make you happy.
Which is precisely your biggest mistake. Here’s why.
Viktor Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist who lived between 1905 – 1997. Frankl lived through the Second World War when he survived concentration camps, slave labor, and starvation.
During his time in the concentration camps, he had a revelation. According to Frankl, humans are animals driven by purpose.
Simply put, we strive for a sense of MEANING or PURPOSE in our lives. And if we can’t find this meaning, we get extremely sad.
For the longest time, humans had three major concerns. Finding food, finding water, and not getting eaten by predators. And even though we can arguably state we have less free time than our hunter-gatherer ancestors, chances are they were happy by simply being alive.
Their purpose in life was staying alive, taking care of their offspring, and live through the harsh winters.
Then, we developed civilization and with it came organized religion. And whether it was a Parthenon of gods or a single divine being caring for their wellbeing, religion gave our ancestors a purpose in the Universe.
Humans were now special. Whether they were molded from clay by a defiant Titan, created from driftwood by three brothers, or the parasites that used to inhabit a god’s body, they were loved by the divine. They meant something.
But even though organized civilization meant humans didn’t have to move from place to place to find resources, life was not easy. Ancient humans faced famines, floods, diseases, shortages, and war on a regular basis.
Their purpose in life was to protect their offspring and to contribute to their tribe, city, or state.
Lately, things have gotten a little more complicated. If you’re reading this, you’re part of the humans who have access to technology, clean drinking water, and video streaming services.
On the bright side, this means you’ll most likely never experience war firsthand, you’ll never suffer from prolonged starvation, and you can use pills to recover from illness.
On the not-so-bright side, not all things changed for the best. Whereas for our ancestors the purpose of life was not being eaten, finding a good shelter for the winter, or remembering to worship the god of their choice, today we have more time to think about life.
However, we don’t really know what we’re doing here. Sure, we have enough food, hopefully have enough money, and we don’t have to worry about predators any longer. But we also get a feeling that a vital piece is missing.
And according to Viktor Frankl, that missing thing is MEANING. Frankl noticed that a lot of his patients experienced a sense of meaninglessness in their lives. He called it “The Existential Vacuum”.
To understand the Existential Vacuum, we must first understand what drives human behavior. Everything we do, we do because we need something.
According to Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, the human needs can be separated into five categories, one stacked on top of the other in hierarchical order. This hierarchy of needs is usually represented as a pyramid.
Our basic needs are physiological. We need food, water, and shelter to live. Then, we need safety. The second pyramid level is reserved for resources, health, property, and personal security.
Humans are inherently social, so we need love and belonging. The third category of needs includes friendship, family, and intimacy.
The fourth level is all about self-esteem. We crave status, strength, recognition, or respect if we want to live a meaningful life.
And the fifth and final level of the pyramid is reserved for self-actualization. According to Maslow, humans are truly happy only when they become what they actually want to be. When they become the best version of themselves (as seen by them).
Now, most people spend their entire lives between the third and fourth levels of the pyramid. They love and are loved in return, they have friends, and they are somewhat respected by their peers.
Unfortunately, most people do not achieve self-actualization. By the end of this article, you will hopefully understand why the fifth level of the pyramid is restricted for most people and how to achieve it yourself.
The problem with modern-day society is that SELF-ACTUALIZATION is often interpreted as being rich. You spend most of your living hours struggling to make money, so it makes sense to believe you’re going to be HAPPY once you have lots of it, doesn’t it?
Once you have a lot of money, stocks, or propriety, you’ll be happy forever, right? Well, not quite.
There’s nothing wrong with money or houses, but money and propriety will NOT make you happy forever. There are several studies supporting this fact.
A Princeton study conducted in 2010 showed that high income does make you happier, but within certain limits. Money stops making you happy when you reach the earning threshold that allows you to support yourself and your family.
Everything you earn after reaching this threshold will not have any effects on your happiness and wellbeing.
So something else is required for happiness.
Happiness is one of the few things humans with different backgrounds try to achieve for its own sake.
But there’s a problem with happiness.
Most of us seem to be thinking “I’ll SURELY BE HAPPY when I bought X / finished X /built X/ completed X”.
You might have noticed that happiness doesn’t work that way. Ever.
Sure, buying, building, or finishing your project will bring you happiness, but only for a short while. After a long enough period of time, you revert back to your default happiness position.
Psychologists call this process the hedonic adaptation or hedonic treadmill, and they call it a fundamental part of the human condition.
Here’s the thing. Every individual has a genetic predisposition towards happiness which is responsible for up to 50% of your overall enjoyment of life.
So if you have a low set point or a low default happiness position, you might gravitate towards sadness and depression. But you don’t have to be too harsh on yourself. You’re playing with a stacked deck, after all.
However, as high as 50% seems, it’s only half of the happiness puzzle. This means your actions, attitude, and thoughts account for the rest. And that’s great because those are things you can control.
So, how can you be sure that the other half of the puzzle will make you happy?
If you’re looking for a complete guide to happiness, you’re out of luck. The spectrum of activities people enjoy is so vast, it’s impossible to come up with a happiness formula that works for everyone.
However, there are certain activities that can improve your state of mind and encourage long-term happiness. Here are some of them.
No, you don’t have to become an accomplished weightlifter or a world-renowned marathon runner to be happy.
But physical exercise plays an important part in our happiness buildup. And you might want to blame our ancestors for that. They spent most of their waking hours moving from one place to another, building shelters, finding food or tending crops, or pulling water from the river.
Their lives had a pronounced physical aspect, so they passed on genes that encourage exercise. We inherited these genes.
Now, modern life is not so physically demanding, but the ancient part of our brains NEEDS exercise to feel good. You might believe that your schedule is too busy to work out.
But studies show that our lizard brains only need about SEVEN MINUTES of exercise to be happy. And it doesn’t even have to be an intense workout. A moderate intensity will do just fine.
Be sincere with yourself. You can fit a seven-minute workout in your schedule, no matter how busy you are.
Sleep helps the body repair itself and helps us be more productive. But sleep is also important for happiness.
Sleep deprivation affects the brain. But the thing is, sleep deprivation affects some parts of the brain more than others.
This is important because each part of our brain has a different function. The hippocampus is responsible for processing neutral and positive memories, whereas the amygdala processes negative stimuli.
Scientists have shown that sleep deprivation affects the hippocampus more than the amygdala. As a result, sleep deprived people have a difficult time remembering pleasant memories while remembering negative ones with ease.
A study showed that a lack of sleep can also alter our sensitivity to negative emotions. Those who are sleep deprived are more sensitive to emotions like anger and fear, and less sensitive to positive ones.
Your mom probably used to tell you some fresh air will do you good. Well, she was right.
Spending 20 minutes outside in good weather boosts your mood, improves your working memory, and makes you happier. Another study showed that 13.9℃ or 57 degrees F is the perfect temperature for happiness.
According to a study conducted in 2011, fake smiles can worsen your day. So when it comes to happiness, faking it won’t cut it.
But people who cultivate positive thoughts and smile when they remember something nice – a nice date, a vacation, or a child’s play rehearsal – successfully improve their mood.
And it gets better. According to another study, smiling can improve your attention and helps you with cognitive tasks.
Mindfulness meditation can be helpful for those who want to improve their focus and attention span. But recent studies show that meditation can also be helpful for those who want to improve their happiness.
Meditation calms you down and clears your mind, so you learn to focus on what really matters in your life. Studies show that people feel calm and content after meditating. Meditation can also promote empathy and a heightened awareness, which can be beneficial for those pursuing happiness.
Mindfulness meditation can act as a foundation for your happiness if you practice it regularly.
Self-hypnosis helps you silence the negative subconscious messages in your mind and helps you focus on the positive ones. With the help of the Increase your Happiness – Self Hypnosis session, you will relearn to enjoy the simple things in life.
Hypnosis is great because it allows you to see your problems from a different perspective. During the hypnotic state, your consciousness is no longer affected by all the distractions of your day-to-day life. This allows you to focus on your problems and find new and creative ways around them.
Listening to the hypnosis audio track on a daily basis will gradually improve your life satisfaction. The hypnotherapy program makes you happier the more you use it.
Even though it might seem counterintuitive, doing something for other people will actually help YOU feel better about yourself.
Helping others can produce a host of benefits. Performing deliberate acts of selflessness boosts our creativity and productivity, and it strengthens our social bonds.
Doing selfless acts of kindness increases our self-confidence and helps us become less self-centered. We tend to compare our problems with those of others when we help them, so that puts our troubles in new perspectives.
This increases our self-worth and helps us understand how much of an impact we can make in the world.
Spending time with family and friends is one of the most important things you can do.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian palliative nurse who cares for patients in the last weeks of their lives. Bronnie recorded her patients’ dying epiphanies in a book called “Regrets Of The Dying” published in 2009.
According to Bronnie, not staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of those who approach the end of their lives.
A study conducted over 72 years on 268 men, George Vaillant, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, showed that the men’s social connections were a good indicator of happiness.
The study also showed that the men who had strong social connections were not only happier, but they also lived longer than their lonely counterparts.
The previous activities will make you happier and improve the quality of your life. But you might be wondering why you had to read about Viktor Frankl and Abraham Maslow at the beginning of the article.
The reason is simple – the previous activities will make you happier, but they are not enough for self-actualization. There’s only one thing that will help you with that. And that thing is PURPOSE.
Defining your life’s purpose is more complicated than exercising daily, smiling when you don’t really feel like it, and using a self-hypnosis app.
But here’s the thing. Defining your life’s purpose is the ONLY thing that will get you from level four to level five in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Viktor Frankl believed that finding an individual stance of MEANING is a journey each individual has to undertake alone.
But just because you have to take the journey alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely while doing it. And most importantly, the purpose of your life doesn’t have to be something GRAND. It simply needs to be something you – the real you, not the one influenced by friends or family – wants to do.
Seriously. Your life’s purpose doesn’t have to be something like becoming an astronaut, millionaire, or being famous. Most of the times, those things alone won’t cut it anyway.
Your life’s purpose should be something you really want to achieve. Something that gives you tremendous pleasure just by imagining it. Something that makes you… well, you. At least, in your mind.
One of the most common problems people encounter when they try to define their life’s MEANING is thinking “But what would my friends/co-workers/family/spouse think about that?” and that’s plainly wrong.
Frankl didn’t say that each individual has to find his or her own meaning alone on a whim. He said it because most people are easily influenced by others.
But here’s the thing, you don’t have to share your life’s purpose with anyone. Nobody needs to know it except yourself. And that’s the beauty of it.
Every age in the human history had its trials. Our ancestors struggled to find food, develop medicine, and invent the steam engine. It seems that our trial is to find the meaning of life and overcome the existential vacuum.
Finding the right PURPOSE for your life might not be something you can come up with in a single afternoon. Some people might spend years thinking about it.
On the other hand, some people might have known it for ages, but they simply didn’t see it as their life’s purpose.
For as long as you can remember, you might have wanted to be the perfect parent. That might not seem worthy of your life’s meaning, but why wouldn’t it be?
Being a parent is hard. Being the perfect parent is almost impossible, at least when your kids reach adolescence. But as long as you really want to achieve this and you put in the effort, that’s a worthy goal.
Keep in mind that your goals don’t have to be grand, but they have to be achievable. They should also be specific. So setting your sights on things like being a good friend or the ideal spouse might work, but defining your purpose as being the one who always gives optimistic advice might work even better.
Frankl defined life’s MEANING as a journey, and rightly so. Knowing that you want to be the perfect parent is nice, but being the perfect parent is a continuous process. You have to work for it every single day for tens of years.
But that’s the beauty of it. Finding your life’s PURPOSE sets you on a course that inexorably changes who you are and makes you a better person.
And that’s what happiness really is. Striving towards your ideal self with all your strength and conviction.
So, think about what you really want to achieve in life, and let your MEANING guide you. Your future self will thank you for it.