One post by Phil got me thinking. Especially the bit to do with happiness, so these are my thoughts as I’ve got them out and onto ‘paper’…..
There are two types recognised in Positive Psychology – Hedonic happiness and Eudaimonic happiness, which Alan Wallace called ‘Genuine happiness’.
Phil noticed that neither type of happiness was labelled as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, although the name ‘Genuine’ does suggest that Hedonic is therefore false or not real.
And in many ways that is true. Hedonic happiness is the type of short-lived, happiness buzz we get from an experience – buying a new pair of shoes, driving around in a fast car, going to a fancy restaurant, going on a rollercoaster, getting to 1000 Twitter followers…. As well as the buzz Phil mentioned we get when, for example, we see someone happy from the appreciation we’ve just shown them.
For the moment, I just want to explore the first group of stuff…..
This is the materialistic, man-made-reliant, experience stuff – it’s the stuff that as a society we are addicted to and which many people believe will bring them happiness. Trouble is these things really are addictive because the happiness they bring is short-lived, therefore we need to keep doing them to keep getting a fix.
They’re also addictive because they’re ego-serving – i.e. they boost our ego and make us feel good about ourselves in comparison to others. Trouble is, that then backfires on us because when it’s our friends telling us about something they’ve bought / done / eaten / etc., we feel inferior and inadequate – our ego takes a knock and we tell ourselves we’re not good enough. We become unhappy. And we believe the only way to find our way back to happiness is to buy / do / eat the same as them – or ideally even better stuff!
Genuine or Eudaimonic happiness is the opposite of this. This is the happiness that comes from inside us. It comes from knowing what’s important to you that you want to make central to your life – be that your career*, your family, voluntary work…. – something which is your Purpose. It comes from appreciating what you have rather than what you don’t have. It comes from being generous towards others with no expectation of anything in return (see post here about Adam Grant’s ‘Givers’). It comes from living in the present and enjoying the simple pleasures and moments in life. It comes from positive relationships with others (hmm, something developing EQ can bring….) And all of which is the stuff that Mindfulness and Positive Psychology support.
So where does the ego sit in Genuine happiness? I guess it’s pretty quiet. Not gone completely, but definitely quieter. In this place you feel congruent in everything you do. You feel confident that you’re good enough just as you are. You help and enable others to succeed, which may well be to help you achieve your Purpose but you’re doing it because the Purpose is what matters (not because you achieving it and gaining kudos matters). You’re open to others’ ideas and views because your ego doesn’t need boosting by showing you know all the answers or that you’re ‘right’. And this openness you demonstrate attracts others to you and brings you even more success in making your Purpose a reality.
But then, when you achieve your success, does that give you a Hedonic happiness rush?
Well, I suppose it does. Just as the example of you seeing someone else happy from the appreciation you’ve shown them might give you a Hedonic happiness boost. And I think this is Hedonic in its more helpful form. Because it’s never going to be beneficial to beat ourselves up for enjoying some Hedonic moments.
But, that ego. It’s still there, ready to pop up and take over gain.
You know that thing when famous people say “I’ve got my family and friends to thank for keeping me grounded” – that’s this stuff. It’s so easy for our ego to get carried away by people telling us good stuff about what we’ve done or how we are. When that happens our ego creeps in and we start doing things to get that Hedonic buzz of positive appreciation, instead of doing things for the purpose of our Purpose. We can start to think we’re so good that we become sloppy or lazy in our approach – and we stop doing or behaving in the way that got us the positive appreciation in the first place.
So, the pop star changes and starts to make music to get more accolades / girls / money – when they started out doing it for the love of the music, for the opportunity to express themselves so that others may enjoy and benefit from it.
Or the person identified as ‘future leadership potential’ starts to become arrogant and self-centred – when they started out with care for enabling and developing others, with a focus on team (not individual) results, with a Purpose beyond pay rise and promotion – all the things which got them spotted in the first place.
As with all these things, there’s no right or wrong; this or that. There’s a continuum and a balance.
I don’t think we could ever live in a completely ego-less, non-Hedonic, Genuine happiness state all the time, forever. We have a basic human need for Attention and to feel Valued so those, right there, are always going to be sought out and will feed our ego. I believe that’s why people talk about ‘practicing’ things like mindfulness because we aren’t perfect, we’re always improving, always on a journey, always trying to gain the balance of this and that. And I believe we’re better to start that journey than to sit at the station waiting for a fast train to take us there.
So where are you on your journey?
Where do you seek an unhelpful Hedonic buzz?
What’s important to you beyond that?
Where do you gain your Genuine happiness balance from?
And when you’re flying high, who is around you to celebrate with you, and keep you grounded?
[*When “career” features in your purpose there’s a difference between the purpose of – “I want to be a CEO of a FTSE100 because I’ll be rich and will be able to tell people I’m a CEO of a FTSE100” (hedonic happiness and ego-boost involved) vs “I want to be a CEO of a FTSE100 because I want to create a workplace where 1000’s of people enjoy working and which provides meaningful work and trade in the communities where we’re based.”]
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