Can You Make a Habit of Happiness?

Lisa Martens

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Many of us think of happiness as elation or euphoria. It's a fleeting feeling we constantly chase, a high not unlike a drug.

But what if we had a more moderate view of happiness? What would that look like, and how would it work in comparison to how we commonly view happiness?

Happiness as elation.

When we think of happiness or of what "makes us happy", we might think of elation—orgasms, roller coasters, a new purchase, intoxication, career success, winnng the lottery, or the feeling of falling in love.

The issue with happiness as elation is that these events are very, very temporary. Sometimes, these events are rare. We may never win the lottery, and we may never experience enough success to give us this feeling of elation.

It's also highly subjective. Some people are happy winning $10, and some people itch to win a large sum, like one million dollars or more.

This is a more hedonistic view of happiness. Happiness is a high, a powerful, wonderful feeling, and an almost overwhelming sense of joy. It's extremely powerful and memorable, some some would argue that these brief moments of elation are what make life worth living. Everything else is just filler...just the moments in-between building up to another brilliant surge of joy.

So what is wrong with living life this way, all the time? I think we have seen some of the consequences already.

The idea of happiness as elation can be unhealthy, addictive, and unproductive. If you're constantly buying lottery tickets and new cars, you may end up losing money and never hitting it big. If you're relying on a big payday to make up for years of suffering, you may be disappointed when it never happens. People waste valuable time and resources chasing pleasure, sometimes to no avail at all.

We cannot make someone fall in love with us, nor can we guarantee our financial or career success. When it comes to elation, many of the sources are out of our control. How are we supposed to be consistently happy, when the rules of life keep changing, and so much is left to chance?

If happiness is a state of mind that we chase...a feeling like sadness or anger...then happiness is fleeting and we can never truly have it. It will come and go, and this might even be frustrating. We may live in a state of constant desire, an itching and longing to be happy.

However, there's another philosophical view on happiness—happiness as flourishing. In short, happiness as a lifestyle, or a habit, instead of a fleeting feeling.

Happiness as Habit

Happiness as a habit or a lifestyle is not as dramatic as happiness as elation. It's nowhere near as's not the stuff movies are usually made of. It's not wildly romantic. There's no magic...just consistent work.

Aristotle posed the view that happiness was an action, and people are happy when they perform the functions for which they are suited. Happiness was not a feeling at all, but a lifestyle choice.

However, there's far more control and peace involved. Less "stuff" is required, certainly.

If happiness is a lifestyle, then what is good for you contributes to your happiness. Sometimes, this definition is in opposition to the idea that happiness is elation. Drinking, drugs, and a poor diet would probably not make the cut under the lifestyle definition of happiness.

Eating well, working a job that one enjoys, and contributing to society fit under this definition of happiness. Removing clutter and buying only what one needs would possibly fit into this category as well.

This definition of happiness gives more control to the individual. Happiness is not an elusive feeling...instead, it is a sum of what you do. Your actions matter, and you feel good based on the good actions you have performed.

The reward is the action.

When we use elation as a measure of happiness, we are consistently chasing new highs. We may work extremely hard but feel there is a big payoff on the other side. Work hard, play hard, right?

This may lead us to stay in jobs we dislike because of the fun happy hours that follow. This may lead us to stay in bad relationships because someone makes up for it with grand romantic gestures. In short, we live our lives for those moments of elation as a reward.

But if happiness is a habit and a lifestyle choice, then the focus shifts from elation to what we are doing in the present. We seek a job that is good for ourselves and good for our community. There's no longer a disconnect between how we spend our time, and how we are rewarded for it.

Community service, doing good for one's community, and working with others become far more important when we stop seeking highs and beging to look at our actions as their own reward. We are no longer bouncing back and forth between high highs and low lows. Life might be more, well, boring, but it's also more under our own control.

Choices become easier to make.

When a healthy lifestyle is the goal instead of elation, decisions become easier to make.

So many different paths can bring elation. The world is filled with toys and foods and drugs and get-rich-quick opportunities...most of which don't work, anyway. But when happiness is defined as a lifestyle, choices narrow. If you're going to only make healthy decisions that would most likely benefit you in the long run, you probably won't waste as much time or money.

When happiness is a lifestyle, tempting decisions are not as tempting. You define your own happiness and goals, instead of letting the world and marketers tell you what would make you happy. You're not as easily convinced or swayed as a person who is chasing elation.

Happiness is not just about yourself.

When one defines happiness by their lifetyle and their choices, other people start to become more important factors. It's not just about feeling good, but about measuring your success based on how your choices impact the entire community and even the world.

We see this even with the pandemic and mask-wearing. How come some people are happy making and wearing masks, and try to have fun with it, while other people refuse to wear them and destroy mask stands at stores? Why do some people burn masks and claim they are uncomfortable, while others always have a spare to help someone in need?

They may have differing definitions of happiness. If happiness is based on what makes you, the individual, feel good, then a mask is probably a source of unhappiness. But if happiness is derived from lifestyle, then the idea of helping the collective is a practice in the art of happiness.

When happiness is treated as an action we can take, the entire way we view life shifts along with it. We have more control, we are less tempted by bad decisions, and we expand our ability to care about others.

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