It was Aristotle who wrote, “Happiness is the whole aim and end of human existence.” This is certainly as true today as when he wrote those words. Happiness comes from being able to move beyond routine daily upsets into states of gratitude, optimism, love and feeling spiritually connected.
Can you become happier than you are? Yes, because it turns out that human beings get the most happiness from an experience when they mindfully and intentionally…
- Anticipate it with pleasure
- Savor it as it unfolds
- Express happiness to themselves and others
- Recall a happy memory
These activities are considered four “stages” of happiness:
Anticipation – Human beings spend about 12% of their waking hours thinking about a positive future, such as daydreaming about winning the lottery or getting an outstanding performance review. Studies confirm that we get joy not just from the positive events in our lives, but also from our anticipation of them. We like anticipating happiness so much, in fact, that we will often choose to delay future pleasure, called “forestalling pleasure”, in order to have more of it. Ever wondered why planning a vacation is more fun than actually going on one? Now you know.
Savoring – Instead of rushing through a happy experience, slow yourself down, paying more attention to the moments of joy and to the feelings you are having during the event. By focusing on the experience fully and heightening your sense of touch, smell, hearing and sight, you can maximize happiness. This is called mindfulness and it is often associated with yoga, meditation and spiritual awakening – experiences in which we strive to intently focus our minds and thoughts on our breathing, our body postures, and our inner states of being and feeling. Being mindful of our happiness is like a chef creating a reduction of a flavor or ingredient in order to produce a new version that is so intense that a little goes a long way.
Expressing happiness – It is hard to imagine feeling fully joyful or happy while being all alone on a desert island. Remember Castaway, the movie with Tom Hanks? His character had to create Wilson, an imaginary pal, out of a basketball in order to endure the deprivations and to keep alive his hope for a future life off the island. Expressing our happiness to others amplifies those feelings in us, and generates supportive, affirmative and positive comments from others that further celebrates our joy and deepens our happiness.
Recalling happy memories –Consider this: when people are asked to name the single object they would try to save if their home were on fire, the most common answer is “My photo album.” We don’t just treasure our memories; we are our memories. Sharing them with others from time to time, allows us to savor past happiness and enjoy it all over again. Recalling happy memories does one other important thing: it allows us to project ourselves forward in time and to simulate our future selves and future circumstances to be happy in the future.
I am currently living through these four stages as I anticipate a family reunion on Cape Cod in July. We started planning the gathering last winter; we are intentionally talking about and savoring fun things like a trip to Nantucket, a clambake, and early morning walks on the beach. We will take lots of photos to enhance our future recollections and we will send notes of thanks to each other to anchor our new memories into our collective family history. The cycle of happiness is underway and I love it!