True Happiness

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We’ve got to define happiness before we can talk about the factors that might be keeping you from attaining it. From our existential point of view the desirable positive affect that most people call happiness is actually just one of the manifestations of the deeper sense of fulfillment that comes from living a life that feels meaningful. It’s the deeper sense of fulfillment that is true happiness.

Emotions are by their very nature transitory, they’re evolutionary designed to give us quick and decisive information about our surroundings so that we can choose the correct behavior for a given situation without having to take the time to think things through, time that’s precious when survival is on the line. You could say that emotional information is pre-cognitive. Of course we can and do rationalize our emotionally driven behaviors after the fact, but in the moment we don’t conceptualize our feelings in a rational way we just feel them and respond accordingly.

The important takeaway for our conversation is that happiness as positive affect, just like every other emotion, is not designed to stick around forever, which means that if you’re chasing this kind of happiness and hoping for it to be permanent you’re chasing a ghost, you’re dooming yourself to certain failure.

We’ll call happiness as positive affect superficial happiness, and while it’s unattainable as a permanent state of being that deeper sense of fulfillment that we’ll call true happiness is attainable as a more or less permanent state of being. This more or less permanent state of being frequently manifests as positive affect. So superficial happiness, the kind of happiness everybody wants, stems from true happiness but is not the same thing as it.

True happiness is attained through two channels, productive work and authentic human connection. Both channels allow you to actualize your unique potentialities, a process that helps you derive meaning out of life. If you’re unhappy but haven’t been able to put your finger on exactly why the first step is to understand the distinction between superficial happiness and true happiness and the second step is to take an honest appraisal of your situation in order to decide if productive work, authentic human connection, or both are missing from your life. If either are missing then unhappiness is the predictable state of being, if both are present then happiness is the predictable state of being.