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​What is happiness, anyway?

​What is happiness, anyway?

By Linda Emslie on 6 June 2018
​What is happiness, anyway?

I was checking some of the Facebook groups I belong too – staying connected and getting inspired by what others are doing, when I came across a video by Robin Sharma.

I stopped to watch because he was talking about journaling. This is a practice that has got me through some rough patches, but it’s not something I am consistent with. That’s an attribute I am now changing.

If you’re not into journaling, or would like to bolster your current practice, I highly recommend checking out Robin’s 7 Key Reasons to Journal video.

But journaling isn’t actually what I want to talk about. During his video, Robin uttered the phrase “hedonic adaptation”. Now, that’s what I want to talk about.

Bear in mind, that I’m not a psychologist, so this is my interpretation of the information I’ve found on the subject.

Wikipedia defines hedonic adaptation as follows.

“… the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.[i] According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.”

Essentially, what this means is as we attain certain levels of achievement, success and happiness, our internal barometer resets and we start to become dissatisfied with the current arrangement. In other words, our attitude and expectations adapt and we start yearning for more, bigger, better.

This shows up really clearly in our financial world. I’ve experienced it myself, as I’m sure many of you have too. When I started out in my working life, my needs were pretty simple. My weekly pay packet more than covered rent, groceries and petrol. Hell I even had spending money left over at the end of the day for movies, dinner out, new clothes, books and music.

But as I progressed through my career, back in the bad old days of my existence in a corporate box, as my salary upgraded with career steps, my lifestyle expanded accordingly. Not that I consider the lifestyle I had as exceptionally hedonistic! It’s just that career progression and associated increases in income allowed for things like a mortgage, a decent car – with air-conditioning (an essential in Darwin in the Build-up!).

And, of course, kids! Life certainly went beyond interesting then, and my outgoings soon outmatched my incoming! I found myself on a treadmill, a merry-go-round even, which I couldn’t seem to get off.

So, I jumped! But that is a story for another day. Today I am focussing on this idea of hedonic adaptation, and why are we seem to be geared to seek happiness from the material world.

I’ve spent the last two months working with a number of people in the Prosperity Game focussing on mindset. Digging up the subconscious programming we take on from our family paradigm, and learning how to untangle the concept that self-worth equals net worth.

Somewhere along the line we’ve taken on 2 major misconceptions and held them as truth: for so long and at such a depth that it is hard to see how we will ever untangle them. They are:

  • I am not enough.
  • Lasting happiness is contingent on having more and more money.

Let’s focus on the second point just for now. Lasting happiness is contingent on having more and more money. However, because of the previously mentioned human propensity for hedonic adaptation, thehappiness doesn't last. Therefore money, ultimately, doesn't buy happiness.

This is a great money myth, and one that keeps many of us trapped in poverty consciousness. But let’s move beyond that and really get to the nitty gritty. What is happiness? My personal definition is:

That incredible expansive feeling I felt as a child, under a cloudless blue sky, knowing without a doubt that I was absolutely loved. This feeling contains the inbuilt ability to laugh out loud easily and to sing with joy without any self-consciousness; to be completely at peace with who I am and my current circumstances.

This isn’t all there is, but it’s a start.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines happiness as:

  • A state of wellbeing and joy.
  • A pleasurable or satisfying experience.

I also note, that this dictionary lists an obsolete definition of happiness – prosperity. Interesting!

At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t really matter what I think or what the standard definitions of happiness are. We are all unique, and our experience of happiness is as individual as each of us.

As with so many things in life, you get to choose happiness (is this starting to sound like a movie line?). You can look within to determine your outlook and how you want to respond to our environment and the situations you find yourself in.

3 key steps to finding happiness:

  1. Look within. Allow your inner wisdom to set the happiness metre. Don’t rely on the illusory and transitory trappings of the material world to “measure” happiness.
  2. Acknowledge the rhythm and cycles of your life and be at peace with the flow of your emotions and mind states. Being perpetually happy is as unnatural as being permanently stressed, frustrated and irritable.
  3. Allow your body to become really familiar with the physical sensations of happiness. When you experience that state that means happiness to you, notice what’s going on in your body. Store those bodily sensations so that when you need help to return to a happy state, your body remembers too.

Check out the recent conversation I had on Facebook about happiness at the Lounge Room Chat with Lovlali.


[i] Rosenbloom, Stephanie (August 7, 2010). "But Will It Make You Happy?". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2010.