Sunday evening I felt happy. Really, really happy.
I finished a 2,000 word report for my Open University unit. The first formal study I'd done for years and it was hard work.
It got me thinking, it was the happiest I'd felt for a while and I'm pretty positive and content generally, but this feeling was just... beautiful. Something I'd worked hard on, been consumed by. I felt really proud of what I had achieved. I don't know the mark, but it doesn't matter right now. It was really nice to be focused on something so completely that a lot of daily rubbish didn't matter. I found I had to switch my phone off for extended periods to focus and felt all the better for it.
So why did it feel so good?
The secret is in the difference between pleasure and happiness.
Now, I'm all for the little pleasures. Sometimes a nice coffee out, a drink after a long day, 'escaping' briefly to social media and getting a few likes or 'treating' yourself to a solo trip to the supermarket (one parents will understand!) or online shopping. But the temptation is to do those things all the time. The daily "hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol respectively" as Alain De Botton says, and it's easy for them to creep up, alongside sweet treats or hours on social media. Numbing yourself to the day and your true feelings.
They bring pleasure for a moment, but it's never enough.
Pleasure is usually short lived, relatively easy, often involves taking a substance or 'taking' something, offers immediate gratification and a sense of excitement. But the dopamine hit is fleeting. You usually want more. One isn't enough. It becomes habit. Taken to extremes it can lead to addiction, misery and have unhealthy consequences. If you were to have 10 coffees, 10 beers, 10 hours on twitter or 10 chocolate cakes then you start to see where the problems arise.
That's not to say we shouldn't enjoy the little pleasures. Just be aware that's what they are and why you're making the choices.
Happiness, on the other hand, requires effort. In the "The subtle art of not giving a f***", Mark Manson points out that things that make you happy require struggle and sacrifice. The harder the journey, the happier you'll feel. Humans love novelty and a challenge, and thrive on achievement. So that marathon, that MBA, that big event; even that 2k non-stop run, that article you finished, that catch up that you struggled to get to, are going to make us a lot happier than an evening of TV and wine.
If it's true happiness, it's long lived. You feel good about it, proud of it. No-one can take it away from you. Often it involves other people, training or course buddies, a partner, friends or a community. Sometimes it involves 'giving' time or attention to something outside of you. You can't get physically addicted to things that make you happy and they often have healthier outcomes and give you a Seratonin boost.
Sure, there are generalisations here, and exceptions to the rule which will no doubt be pointed out, but take a moment to think about what makes you feel really happy. Does it fit the model?
When did you last sacrifice a pleasure to make time to struggle for happiness?