Want Long-Term Happiness? Make Sure You’re Looking In The Right Place!

The Challenge: We’re all looking for happiness – but why are we not happy?
The Science: The secret to long-term fulfillment lies in seeking the right type of happiness.
The Solution: Including eudaimonic happiness in our lives will ensure long-lasting well-being.

What’s the best way to reach happiness? Many of us have no clue. In fact, we may not often experience happiness simply because not only are we clueless as to where to find it, but we are actually looking for it in all the wrong places.

Here’s where research comes into play and sheds some clues on the question:

Research helps shed some light on this important question—in particular, the data shows that there are two kinds of happiness:

  • hedonic happiness: think, all the pleasures of the senses from chocolate to sex, from an unexpected check in the mail to a massage
  • eudaimonic happiness: think connection with loved ones, purpose, meaning, community service, and spirituality

Can you guess where lasting happiness lies? Let’s just say it’s not just at the bottom of your chocolate sundae. Both hedonic and eudaimonic happiness certainly have a positive impact and boost our well-being. However, hedonic happiness is incredibly short-lived. It is characterized by intense bursts of pleasure (think: that sundae is SO yummy!) that don’t last (ugh, it’s all gone :() and that leave us craving more (Maybe I should order another one!).

This cycle of short bursts of pleasure followed by craving characterizes all hedonic happiness from food to sex to financial gains. While these may all be fun – they are characterized by this vicious cycle and don’t end up bringing us the long-lasting happiness we’re seeking. In fact, a study even showed that people who are materialistic and consumeristic don’t gain happiness from their consumption.

So, where do we find long-term bliss? It is actually eudaimonic happiness that helps ensure stable and lasting feelings of happiness and well-being. Individuals who live a “eudaimonic” lifestyle live a life rich in compassion, altruism, and greater meaning. Remember how that felt. Kindness, service, and greater purpose give us boosts in our well-being that we cannot find anywhere else. Research shows that these qualities are linked to greater health, happiness, and well-being as well as lower inflammation levels!

Still not persuaded? Think about a time that you helped another person or contributed to someone else’s life. A great way to boost your positive mood is to shift your attention from yourself to others. Decades of research have shown that our connection to others in a meaningful way is crucial to our psychological and physical health and well-being (for more, see my TEDx talk). That’s right, go do something nice or helpful for someone else: your family, your friends, strangers, colleagues. Go out of your way and be kind. Share, care, donate, volunteer, listen, and extend a helping hand.

We’re not saying you should stop eating chocolate or having fun. Keep enjoying life! Just make sure you’re balancing eudaimonic activities with the hedonic ones! Seek ways in which you can contribute to other people, animals, or the planet. Explore different wisdom traditions and understand how others have found meaning for centuries and across traditions and cultures. By asking yourself what your purpose is in life you might just find…the very thing that makes you come alive!

Emma Seppälä
EMMA SEPPÄLÄ, Ph.D. is the author of The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success and Science Director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. She also teaches at Yale University and consults with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She founded Fulfillment Daily and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today.
Boost of hands-on inspiration sent to your inbox

Join 2,000+ people who receive FulfillmentDaily digest–our curated newsletter of personal development tips on happiness, productivity, relationships, and more.

Subscription Form