Three Forms of Happiness--and How to Boost Them

October 03, 2014

When we talk about “happiness” we’re really talking about several different things. I’ve chosen to categorize them like this: momentary pleasure, overall happiness and long-term contentment. Ideally, a truly happy life balances all three. Let’s look at these forms and at how we can boost each one.

Momentary pleasure. Momentary pleasure includes all our feel-good moments and jolts of fleeting pleasure. We feel it when we eat a brownie or have a massage, receive a compliment or buy a new shirt. Fleeting pleasures are nice while they last, and we can—and should—easily add them to our daily lives. We should be on the lookout for opportunities to do something nice for ourselves—whether that means taking a break to read a novel, buying some fresh flowers or savoring a delicious meal. We might even make a list of momentary pleasures to indulge in when the time is right.

Nice as it is, however, momentary pleasure is just the tip of the happiness iceberg, so to speak. Chasing momentary pleasure without regard to deeper forms of happiness can backfire, ultimately leaving us unhappy. Which brings us to…

Overall happiness. Overall happiness is a general good feeling about life. Baseline happiness, if you will. Generally, things are going right for you and you appreciate what’s going on in your life. This form of happiness is a little more work than momentary pleasure—you might do things such as work out, eat right, pay your bills on time or help out a neighbor in need—things that contribute to overall happiness but might not always offer momentary pleasure. (For example, I’d much rather eat a brownie than broccoli, but I know my health will suffer if I don’t eat right, and that definitely makes me unhappy). Gretchen Rubin’s excellent books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home both examine ways we can boost our overall happiness. And finally, we come to…

Long-term contentment. Contentment comes from deep within, running like an underground river, even when our outward circumstances seem unhappy. I believe it comes from alignment of purpose, knowing we’re primarily acting according to our deepest values. We can look within and know we’re doing what we believe to be right. We believe our lives are full of more good than bad, and we’re grateful. Boosting this form of happiness requires some introspection, examination of what we really believe, and deciding whether we feel we’re living those beliefs. Meditation and other spiritual practices can guide us to long-term contentment. One practice I’m working on incorporating is the “three good things” exercise: every day before bed record three good things from that day. It’s so easy for me to dwell on the negative; this practice helps me refocus on the positive.

Pursuing—and catching—happiness seems to involve a balance between nourishing the body and the soul, taking pleasure and giving it. How do you boost your happiness?

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  1. Your three good things activity sounds very beneficial, similar to a gratitude journal. It is so important to focus on the positive instead of the negative but sometimes it's hard to remember to do that. One of my friends is mostly unhappy and I'm convinced one of the reasons is she seems to focus on the negative almost all of the time. Sometimes it's even hard to be around her and be her friend.

  2. Cheryl--The three good things process is really helpful because so many good things in life I take for granted. It's easier to focus on the negative happenings than to remember and be grateful for the fact that I and my family are healthy, we have a lovely home and plenty to eat, etc. We have so much more than so many others in this world. It is hard to be with someone who focuses on the negative--it can bring you down, too. But I'm sure that having you as a friend is a positive!

  3. Oh Kathy - Such great thoughts on happiness. Momentary pleasures are nice but feeling good about what you do as well as taking time to count your blessings seems to lead to real contentment. Thanks for sharing. You write so well my friend. Have a great day.

  4. Thanks, Debbie. I appreciate your kind comments. Hope you have a great day, too!

  5. Wonderful to read your reflections, expressed to beautifully, Kathy. Yes, I too work at reflecting on how to live my life in a way that opens my being to happiness & health...reflect & act...It's nice to know we have a choice...