Hedonic Happiness vs Eudaimonic Happiness
Happiness, scientifically, exists in two different forms, hedonic happiness, and eudaimonic happiness. Hedonic happiness is defined as “increased pleasure and decreased pain.” It is centered around instantaneous human emotions such as joy, pleasure, pride, and excitement, whereas eudaimonic happiness is centered around a person’s satisfaction with their life, purpose, and meaning. Veronika Huta, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Ottawa explains that the distinction between these types of happiness is important due to the fact that they are commonly at odds with each other. Basically, temporary happiness often does not lead to retrospective happiness, as temporary happiness often roots from impulsive decisions. For instance, not studying for your physics test to go out with your friends or skipping a proofread of your essay so you can watch an episode of The Office before bed may seem like a good idea at the time and yes, it will bring you happiness, but the unfortunate consequence in this hedonic happiness is likely the loss of eudaimonic happiness. So how do we determine which form of happiness is more important? While one person may perceive happiness as instantaneous joy, others may perceive happiness as a long-term reflection on life. Hence meaning, happiness is not a one-size-fits all concept. So the next time you decide to google ‘how to be happy’ or ask for advice from a friend, recognize that the core concept of happiness varies from person to person and not all the advice you receive will apply to you.
Psychologist Gary Stollak’s Concept
Not only can happiness be defined in different ways but it also affects the human psyche in ways we do not expect. We’ve all had moments, whether it’s having a good time with friends or family, accomplishing something after hard work, or going on a vacation, where we felt true joy. But, after these moments fade and the period of excitement passes, humans tend to experience a lurking sadness overcome them. These are commonly referred to as “Happiness Hangovers”. According to psychologist Gary Stollak, professor emeritus of clinical psychology at Michigan State University, this is due to our “happiness set point”. Our happiness set point is basically a meter where our happiness will always balance out. Therefore, after periods of happiness or excitement, we often experience periods of melancholy. Happiness Hangovers are in fact quite similar to the hangovers you are probably more prone to hearing. After someone intakes too much alcohol, they often experience sickness and sadness the next day. This is due to, according to behavior physiologist George Koob, “a basic physiological phenomenon that the body reacts to any challenge associated with it, and often in a way to counteract the effects of that challenge”. Your brain and emotions do the same thing when you experience “too much happiness,” they reject it and counteract it, causing you to experience a sudden change in emotion that resembles sadness, guilt, or dullness.
The Paradox of Choice
Another shocking misconception of happiness involves the brain’s capability of making choices. Restaurant meals, ice cream flavors, what clothes you wear, and what cereal you buy at the grocery store are decisions you make every day. Have you ever found yourself at a place like the Cheesecake Factory or Olive Garden with menus equivalent in length to a novel, debating between two dinners, fearing that the one you choose will be suboptimal in comparison to the other? This is what is commonly known as the Paradox of Choice. The Paradox of Choice, introduced by Barry Schwartz, implies that choice grants freedom, which then grants happiness. Yet when humans are faced with a choice, they often struggle with determining whether they made the correct decisions. This worry then results in a dwindling of happiness. Many may argue the opposite, that you must gain happiness with more choice because more choice often leads to more opportunity to choose something you are satisfied with. But, this would be incorrect because with a wider variety of choices, the human brain becomes confused, resulting in stress.
The paradox of choice can be applied to things as simple as choosing your meal at the Cheesecake Factory to something as difficult as choosing life-altering medical treatments. Professor at Columbia University, Sheena Iyengar, conducted a study to test the theory of the Paradox of Choice. The first was conducted in a gourmet supermarket in California. Iyengar set up a stand for sampling and purchasing jams and every few hours she would rotate between two groups of sample jams. The first group of jams was a set of 24 and the second, a set of 6 jams. Throughout the time the stand was up for sampling and purchasing, 60% of customers approached the stand with 24 jams and 40% approached the stand with 6 jams but while only 3% of those that approached the stand with 24 jams actually purchased jam, 30% of those that approached the stand with 6 jams bought jam. The people in the grocery store were overwhelmed by the immense amount of different jams, therefore making them less entreating. This is due to when a person is confronted by a large selection or a wide variety of options, the human brain struggles with self-doubt and therefore relinquishes some happiness during decision making, causing the jams to be less appealing. But, when confronted with fewer options, the human brain was able to better process what information is in front of it, which made the decision-making easier and resulted in an escalation in happiness.
Happiness has many misconceptions and is something the world is studying and pondering every day. Theories may sharpen our focus on what happiness means to each person but it will always remain elusive.