Building A Happy Life

Little boy joyfully playing in a sprinkler.

Is it possible to find happiness right here, right now?

“Happiness is not a destination,” they say. “It’s a journey.” It’s a mindset, a perspective, a choice. And it has nothing to do with finally reaching the Holy Grail of anticipated, sought-after bliss.

If happiness runs in your veins, this may be preaching to the choir.

But for some, the elixir seems a little more elusive. And hearing that happiness is not a destination isn’t enough to change that. They need to understand why it isn’t an endpoint. 

If you’re among those who need a little more convincing that happiness is not a destination, here are 6 reasons to shift your thinking.

  • Set-point theory. 

    The set-point theory of happiness says that your level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and ingrained personality traits. You’ll naturally experience highs and lows through life experiences, but your happiness level will remain relatively constant. 

    In other words, based on this theory, your self-perception of happiness will always oscillate around a baseline level. Whether you lose a job or win the lottery, your attitude and emotional state will habituate to the change and return to your “normal.”

    The set-point theory has its challenges, but it corroborates one big truth about happiness: it’s not an endpoint. And your set-point can actually be elevated, as you will discover below.
  • Happiness as a goal. 

    “I’ll be happy when this year is over.” “I’ll be happy when I’m out of debt.” “I’ll be happy when it’s spring/summer/fall/winter/football season/vacation time.” “I’ll be happy when I lose this weight/get married/buy a house.” 

    (You get the point. It probably sounds silly to contemplate the criteria we so commonly place on our happiness.)

    The danger with making happiness a goal is that you forfeit your joyful experience of the present. You don’t enjoy springtime because you’re thinking about summer. You miss the beauty of nature on your walk because you are so focused on losing weight. You forget to be grateful for the roof over your head because it’s not a house you own.

    Goals are wonderful to have and achieve, but happiness shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • The misery of failure. 

    If you attach happiness to a goal – a job promotion, an athletic accomplishment, a romance – and don’t achieve that goal, what happens to the happiness?

    This perspective of happiness as a trophy awarded upon achievement of a goal will set you up for misery. Not only will you miss the beauty and magic of the present. You will also feel tremendous defeat if you don’t get that promotion, win the gold medal, or marry your love interest. Suddenly you’re not just living “without happiness,” you’re living with misery.
  • The victory lap is short compared to the race. 

    OK, let’s say you got that promotion. Let’s say you won the gold medal or got to give your acceptance speech at the Oscars. Pretty euphoric moments, wouldn’t you say? But how long did the euphoria last? A week? A month?

    Now think back to your anticipation, your training, your envisioning of that glorious moment. Which lasted longer – the journey or the reward?

    An important reason that happiness is not a destination is something called active anticipation. This is about your enjoyment of the process. This is why athletes push through the pain and live to smile about it. This is why vacations and weddings are so much fun (despite the stress) to plan. 

    That moment you dreamed about and planned for may last a few minutes, maybe a few days. But the dopamine hit you get every time you immerse yourself in the planning and envisioning is what keeps you happily in the game.
  • Frequency of happy events. 

    If happiness were a destination, a prize to be grabbed, then that one big dose would have to have a long shelf life. After all, if you’re going to call yourself a happy person, you have to have enough fuel in the tank to last until the next fill-up, right?

    But that’s a pretty risky approach to life. And it certainly doesn’t afford any guarantees that you’ll always get what you’re hoping for.

    While certain life events can have huge emotional impact, both good and bad, intensity is short-lived. It’s simply not sustainable.

    Think about the intensity of falling in love. You don’t eat or sleep, you can’t concentrate, and you don’t always make wise decisions. It’s wonderful and maddening at the same time.

    But the true test of that love comes when the hormonal brain-bath drains and you both return to planet Earth. Happiness now comes in the little things. The constant things. The unadorned, unexpected, self-created, mutually enjoyed, day-to-day experiential things.

    It’s not the intensity of an event that drives happiness. It’s the frequency of happy events that drives (and sustains) it.
  • Raising your happiness set-point. 

    Whether or not the set-point theory holds up across the board, there is one proven way to raise your happiness level. Helping others. 

    A German study found that altruism not only correlates with happiness, but causes it. And should we be surprised? 

If you want to help yourself, help someone else. Turns out it’s true. And there is research to back it up. There is something inherently elevating about creating value for others. Not only does your own self-esteem get a collateral boost, but your sense of purpose – your perceived value of your own life – does, as well.

There are countless inspirational stories of people who have been happy despite their circumstances. We are humbled and inspired by them because, not only do they live their happiness, they exude it. 

They give us pause to examine what we have right here, right now – and what can never be taken from us. Think of Anne Frank (Diary of a Young Girl) or Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness).

Of all the things that happy people know about being genuinely happy, the most important, without question, is this: Happiness is not a destination. It is right here, right now, in every step of the journey.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in putting together the pieces so you can begin living your happy life.

Looking for more information about how you can have a happier life? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Building A Happy Life.