When looking for happiness, one of the first things you are going to have to decide is what type are you going to go after. You’re asking “You mean there is more than one type of happiness?” Yep.
Happiness, like love and anger, comes in some variations. Love and anger are covered in other articles. The easiest way to categorise them is by time – short, medium and long. Each one with its rewards and costs.
One could say there is a similarity between the subject of happiness and a healthy diet. There are foods which you like but aren’t that good for you. There are foods that are not that exciting but, in the long run, are significantly better for you. This doesn’t remove the fact that we are all drug addicts. We are all looking for our daily emotional fix. The question is, what is your drug of choice? Just like some people like beer over spirits, or wine over a beer, so too is it with happiness. There is no right or wrong, just choices, benefits and consequences.
Let’s start with short term happiness. These are activities or things that produce an emotional state that can be measured in minutes. You do the activity, think the thought, eat the food, and the sensation lasts for a few minutes. The moment the sensation is over, you are out looking for another hit to return you to that happy place. This is the realm of food such as chocolate, or movies, alcohol, sex, drugs, shopping, and adrenalin. I think you get the idea. Searching for this type of happiness is a bit of a wild ride. Quickly you will start to realise that even in the middle of the pleasure there is a part of you that knows it is only fleeting.
States of medium-term happiness can be measured in months and years. More thought and effort is required to achieve this type of happiness. This happiness comes in the form of education, career, child rearing. Designing, writing, creating and building. Effort and focus of attention are the things that are the earmarks of this type of happiness. The rise to this state is slower, however, there is no sudden drop off at the end. It is a steady and continuous movement in a direction. There may be a sense of tremendous loss when it has come to the end of its time. For example, children leaving home, the end of a career or graduation. At the end of this addiction, you will be required to find another.
Long term happiness, I think, is the most attractive of all the forms of happiness. In saying that, it is the one form that is the most challenging and, in my mind, the most rewarding. The one word that could describe this type of happiness is legacy. Knowing that you have made a difference in the world. It is about realising your short existence on earth has had a positive effect on the people around you or the world.
What is it that you have done with your life that will live beyond your eventual death? This could be as simple as building a better mousetrap, producing an evergreen piece of music, writing a poem or book that will be passed down through time. True, it may take a significant amount of time and investment of resources. It could also be thrust upon you by chance. Like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have produced a legacy that has changed the world forever. It could also be as simple as having a child and investing in them so that they may take your learnings into the future. Becoming a master so that your apprentices evolve into the masters that continue the skills through time.
Short-term happiness is quick up and faster down, usually lasting only minutes. Medium happiness is slow to rise and slow to fall. Long term happiness is possibly slow to rise, however, it continues beyond your death. The reason for this is apparent. There is no profit in long term happiness for a corporation. The moment you have sold a thing you need to sell it again as soon as possible, otherwise you’re out of business. This is why drugs and pornography are such good businesses because you know that your customers will be back the next day.
Am I saying that short term happiness is bad and that we all have to go after long-term happiness? No. Going after long-term happiness to the exclusion of short and medium-term happiness is just as destructive. It is a bit like budgeting. If you save 100% of what you earn you will starve to death. If you spend 100% of your income there is nothing for the future. The aim of the game is to find a balance. There is nothing wrong with a bit of sugar and fat in your diet. It is only an issue when it is the only thing you eat.
At different stages of your life, you will seek more of one than the other. In childhood, it is about short term happiness. As you grow, more of your resources will be spent on medium to long term happiness. Take the time to discover your short term medium and long term happiness objectives. By doing this, slowly at first, you will spend more time on the medium to long-term activities. By doing this, you will experience a more sustainable and stable sense of happiness. Remember to eat the chocolate cake from time to time as well!