Being happy is not about living ‘life’s spectacular journey’, as some happiness experts attest. Nor is it about avoiding pain. A happy person feels all the dark emotions: anger, fear, sadness, grief . . . but isn’t broken by them.
There are two kinds of happiness, ‘temporary happiness’ and ‘core happiness’.
Temporary happiness occurs when we experience the pleasure of something happening, such as winning money, seeing our team win, or being with someone we love. And it occurs when we feel short term emotions such as wonder, pride, or gratitude. That’s when endorphins, the ‘happy hormones’, rush to our brain and make us feel good. Our happiness soars, but after a while we return to normal.
Similarly, in troubling situations, such as when a pet dies, our happiness may plummet, but again returns to normal.
Core happiness, or ‘set point’ or ‘baseline’ happiness is that general day-to-day sense of wellbeing we experience in our day-to-day routine: such as getting up in the morning, taking a shower, or walking down the street. It’s innate, and it is our default happiness.
It’s this core happiness which makes life worth living. We are not always conscious of it, but it’s the lubricant to life.
Of course, pleasure is also important: life would be drab and pointless without pleasure! However, people with an unlimited choice of pleasures will nevertheless find life unsatisfying if they have a weak core happiness. Conversely, those with a strong core happiness, although they may not have access to many pleasures, will take delight in the little things of life.
It’s helpful to distinguish between the two types of happiness so that when when we need to make a decision we can ask ourselves the same question the Dalai Lama asks himself: ‘Will it bring pleasure, or happiness?’
To sum up, to have an enjoyable life we need to experience both the temporary happiness we get from short-term pleasure and the milder, more pervasive ongoing core happiness.
You can figure out for yourself what pleasures give you temporary happiness, but what about core happiness? How do we get that?
‘When I think of happiness I think of a bed. The most essential part of a comfortable bed is a solid mattress. On top of that mattress you have crumpled sheets, you have to change those sheets and pillowslips every week, you have disorganisation, you have cold, you have warmth. But the solid foundation is there and that’s your mattress, and all of the things on top of that mattress is what happens in life. The foundation is your happiness.’
Linda Burney, MP of NSW Legislative Assembly.