The new American mania lately has been the pursuit of individual happiness. It seems like everyone is writing and talking about happiness. I have a lot of research surrounding happiness by virtue of studying the behaviors, activities, thinking and emotions of over 350 rich and poor people over a five-year period. They were all in search of happiness, but each group had there own definition of it and, as a result, each group pursued it differently.
What I learned from my five years of studying these two groups is that those who were successful in life pursued one type of happiness and those who were unsuccessful in life pursued another type of happiness. The poor group, or those who were unsuccessful in life, pursued short-term happiness while the rich group, or those who were successful in life, pursued long-term happiness. The effects of this are self evident.
When I asked the people in my study who were successful, “Are You Happy?”
82 % said YES
When I asked the people in my study who were struggling with a life of poverty the same question
98% said NO
Short-term happiness is the result of engaging in activities from which you derive immediate pleasure or immediate gratification. This might include drinking alcohol, doing drugs, gambling, watching an abundance of TV, spending hours on the Internet, reading books of fiction (fantasy, science fiction, romance or suspense), or engaging in arousal activities such as sex-related activities, skydiving, amusement parks, etc. These short-term happiness activities pay off immediately. You get an instant dopamine rush and feel good almost instantly. But then the happiness feeling fades away and you eventually recoil back to being unfulfilled, sad or even depressed. So, you seek out another short-term happiness activity to get that dopamine rush. It’s a vicious cycle, chasing one happiness activity after another. Yet, despite all of that happiness chasing, you are never truly happy for long.
Long-term happiness, on the other hand, is a completely different type of happiness. Those successful individuals in my study who found long-term happiness were not on a singular mission to find happiness. They were after something completely different and far more significant – they were on a quest for a life of meaning. They found meaning by pursuing something they were passionate about, something that gave their life purpose, meaning and fulfillment. They were pursuing their dreams!
True happiness cannot be pursued as an end to itself. Those 82% of successful individuals in my study who found happiness devoted their entire lives to the pursuit of their dreams. They created a script or blueprint of their ideal future lives, defined the dreams that made that life possible and then spent the rest of their lives creating, pursuing and achieving the goals that turned each dream into a reality. It wasn’t always easy. Oftentimes, they encountered obstacles and roadblocks that created stress, doubt and uncertainty. But their passion for pursuing something meaningful gave them the strength to forge on. Ultimately, they found their long-term happiness within the journey itself. True happiness, I learned, hides behind a life of meaning and purpose.