What is happiness?

Being happy is not about living ‘life’s spectacular journey’, as some happiness experts attest. Nor is it about avoiding suffering. 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 short-term 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 plummets. Again, after a while we return to normal.

Core happiness, or ‘set point’ or ‘baseline’ happiness is the sense of well-being we experience in our day-to-day routine: getting up in the morning, taking a shower, or walking down the street. It’s innate. It is our default happiness. And it’s the 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 who can have whatever pleasures they want will 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?

See you in the next chapter.

‘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.


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2 Responses to What is happiness?

  1. hannah sammon says:

    hi Mr Avery my name is Hananh and i am a very deep thinker and often thought about topics you talk about i have read a lot of peoples blogs and find yours the best i often visit it i too am looking into certain topics that you do i cant say i agree with everything you say but i do believe quite a great deal of it will keep on reading as its helping me in my search of topics thank you Hannah ps great blog keep up the good work love it

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Thank you, Hannah! It’s heartening to receive encouraging emails like yours. Thank you so much for taking the time to write your note to me. Much appreciated!
      My warm regards to you,

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