Hello everybody, welcome to episode 221 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is on whether happiness is a scam.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
Great to have you all here today as we’re going to take another crack at the happiness puzzle. Our asker today is feeling a little frazzled by all the happiness advice out there, and I can’t say I blame here. There’s a lot to take in these days, about happiness and everything else really, and it’s important to be able to identify what’s right for you and what’s legitimate. No easy task, though. Let’s take this question and see if we can offer a little clarity on the pursuit of personal happiness. Here it is…
QUESTION: “What would you have to say about finding happiness on an individual level? Is it just me or is happiness getting to be taboo? I sometimes feel guilty or foolish for looking for ways to be happier all the time. There’s so much information about it and a lot of it is conflicting. I don’t know what’s a scam or what’s clickbait. I also think that everyone finds happiness differently. It’s weird, but it feels like I’m being taken advantage of when I try to read about it. Is there a way to figure out what works for us and what to ignore?”
So, Is Happiness a Scam?
Wow. Thanks a lot for sending this in, asker. Well put.
So this is a really interesting observation. It’s one I’ve had myself and one that I find especially complicating for me personally because on the one hand, I agree that there’s a lot of scam involved in much of the happiness literature out there, and on the other hand, I’m clearly in a position where I’m more or less guiding people to happiness, if you will.
Obviously I try to bring educated responses to you all and not make recommendations outside of my jurisdiction, but in a way, it doesn’t matter what I do as much as it matters who chooses to listen to me. And this is kind of the running problem when it comes to happiness content out there.
Little Additions vs. Deep-Rooted Troubles
I’d say a lot of what you read about happiness is best for people who are only looking to make little additions to their lives rather than people who have deep-rooted troubles and are looking for an article or podcast to answer all their problems. It’s those who are extra reliant on happiness who are getting preyed on, as not only are they more susceptible to falsely advertised quick-fix types of guidance, but even good, well-researched content isn’t enough for them.
This isn’t the fault of authors who have done their homework and have good things to say, but it’s a mistake on the part of readers to think that any short form content is enough to crack a lifetime of depression. Good work can you get you thinking in the right direction, but it’s ultimately the conclusions people make for themselves, and more importantly, the actions they take that provide real benefits.
Sometimes good material is enough to provide a great springboard for that, but when we’re talking about longstanding issues, a long-term, concentrated approach like therapy is always what’s most practical.
But the more desperate we feel, the more we look for quick solutions. So those desperate for answers are in real trouble because they’re being brought in again and again. Long term work is all that will help those who are in deep need of more happiness, but because there’s so much false advertising about doing such and such to make yourself happier, these people constantly come up short and come back looking for more. It’s a bad cycle that has lined the pockets of a lot of people.
Detachment from The Idea of Being Happy
So regardless of if you need a total life overhaul or if things are generally all right and you’re just curious about making some improvements, I’d recommend a healthy amount of detachment from the idea of being happy, and instead focus on what kinds of actions you can take that you know are good for you.
One thing I love doing on the show is giving people questions to ask themselves more often than I give hard opinions, because questions give someone a foundation with which to start making their own discoveries that they can take with them and forever contemplate to find answers that make sense for them as individuals. So with that, I’ll share some research I like that can put you in a position to do just that; formulate actions on your own that are good for you specifically.
I was listening to Dr. Margaret Rutherford’s podcast recently, which is called Self-Work. She’s a featured author on Optimal Relationships Daily and a long-tenured therapist whose work I really enjoy. And in episode 216 of her show she was referencing the three components of joy that have been concluded in the field of Positive Psychology.
Basically the research suggests that we experience happiness in three types of ways: pure pleasure, pure challenge and pure meaning.
Pleasure, Challenge, and Meaning
Pure pleasure is something that is simply fun for the sake of being fun. It’s telling or laughing at a joke, watching a favorite movie, or eating something delicious. It’s a more spontaneous form of happiness that doesn’t require any particular struggle and isn’t really a weighted matter.
Pure challenge is the happiness we derive from accomplishment. It’s enjoying the difficult process that ultimately leads to a great result. Exercise is a good example of this. You might not feel comfortable halfway through a marathon, but you’re pushing yourself to achieve something great.
Then finally, pure meaning is the happiness that comes from contributing to something that has a really high purpose. This could be something dramatic like going to war and enduring severe trauma and injury all for what you believe is the freedom of your country. Or something small like a parent who changes a diaper – which is an example used by blogger Anuschka Rees, who Dr. Margaret was citing in that episode.
What you want to ask yourself is what actions you can take or currently take in your life that are reflective of these types of happiness.
Experience Pure Joy and Happiness
Now, you may notice that pure challenge and pure meaning sound similar, as they share a degree of sacrifice or unpleasantness. Well they do have a lot in common, and they can be blended, as can any of these three types of happiness.
Pleasure and challenge might be a hiker scaling a tough mountain. Pleasure and meaning might be a chef who’s cooking their spouse’s favorite meal for their anniversary. Challenge and meaning might be a volunteer doing laborious ocean clean up work.
And as you maybe guessed by now, the full culmination is that pure joy is experienced when all three of these are blended together, and positive psychologists seem to agree that many of the happiest people spend a lot more time doing activities that encompass all three than those who are categorized as being less happy.
So again, if you’re looking to generate more happiness on an individual level, in a way that is based in long term action rather than just theory, I would recommend considering how you can bundle these types of happiness into your current routine. And I’d focus on doing so with the intention of making emotionally healthy changes in your day to day life, not by putting pressure on yourself to suddenly flip a switch from unhappy to happy.
Thanks again to the asker for sending in this question, and trusting us to, I suppose, separate ourselves from the pack a little bit and speak about this problem that we as listeners and hosts find ourselves in the middle of. It served as a great reminder, however, that happiness is indeed different for everyone, and thus, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t enjoy meditating, journaling, waking up early, or any of the other popular recommendations out there for becoming happier. There’s a lot of opportunity for everyone, and seeking it without putting pressure on yourself to check all the boxes is normally as winning of a strategy as you could ask for.
Time to get out of here, friends. Thanks for sticking around once again and for making another episode special. Good luck out there, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to be the happiest you you can be. You’ll fall on your face. Other stuff out of your control will also throw you on your face. These things happen. There’s no shame in not being as happy as possible at all time. Take care of yourselves and I’ll see you in the next one.