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Three Types of Happiness: How Do You Choose?

Three Types of Happiness

In The Happiness Myth, Jennifer Michael Hecht defines three types of happiness: a moment of happiness, a good day, and a happy life. Hecht suggests that no further definition is needed because the difference between the three is obvious when we use or hear the word happiness in context.

However, she points out that these three types of of happiness are rarely in harmony with each other other, which can make achieving happiness more difficult than defining it. “Anything we do,” Hecht writes, “may facilitate one kind of happiness and inhibit another.”

In other words, skipping work to see a movie may help you have a good day but interfere with your ability to have a happy life. This conflict can complicate things when you’re trying to define happiness for yourself.

-Britt Reints, An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

This excerpt from Britt’s new book got me thinking. Two years ago I published a manifesto called The Tower, which was all about combining short-term happiness and long-term happiness.

Overall fulfillment—a slightly different concept than happiness—is about blending the goals of good days and happy lives. When we work to create something meaningful over time, aligning our short-term choices with the desired long-term results, that’s when we’re most likely to feel happy.

But maybe that’s just me.

How about you—which of the three types of happiness do you think about the most?

How can you be focused on the happy life without sacrificing the good day and the moment of happiness?

Feel free to let us know in the comments.

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28 Comments

  • Vincent says:

    I’m always thinking about the long-term happy life that I can build for myself. However, there were times when I’ve messed it up by denying myself too many moments of happiness thinking that they’d be distractions for the long-run. This meant I rarely celebrated my successes and rarely allowed myself to indulge. I always wondered what the point was since I knew it would only feel good for a short time.

    What I failed to see was that denying yourself like that for a lifetime will hinder your ability for a happy life. It’s not bad to indulge every now and then nor is to celebrate.

  • Miss Britt says:

    I was reading this post in my feed reader and I’m like “hmm… that first line sounds familiar. Hey… wait a minute!” And then I saw the link and my name. 🙂

    Thanks for introducing the book and this important question to people, Chris!

  • Meg says:

    I tend to focus on building lifetime happiness. However, I’ve come to realize over the last couple months, that focusing too much on the future takes away from being present and enjoying the time we’ve currently been giving.

    Without stopping to make time to enjoy happy moments and happy days, we’ll always be reaching for that elusive next thing that “if only” we could have, would create a happy life!

    I think that focusing on creating a series of happy moments, along with keeping to a framework for future goals, is the way to the most happiness! So yes, I agree with you, Chris 🙂

  • Nina says:

    It’s good question and one not so easy to answer. Sometimes happiness in the short-term is not about satisfying your own needs directly. Some tasks/work you have to do are just no fun! But maybe you can make it about making someone else happy. Or about contributing to something bigger than yourself. Which can be very satisfactory in my experience. Just a smile can do the trick. Or take one minute to stop and enjoy the process you are working on. Look at it from a different angle. It doesn’t always work that way, I know…
    While writing this I’m thinking; maybe it is the difference between being happy and being content. Learning to be content could be very good for your long-term happiness…
    Mmm food for thought. Thank you!

  • Rachele says:

    Well I aim for long term happiness, but I think long-term is a relative phrase, and it is all too easy to work towards a future that may never come or to lose faith without short-term rewards to reinforce positive habits. Even more significant than that, there’s a tendency in most people towards aversion to moments that are uncomfortable in some way. So lately I have tried to focus on appreciating even the moments that are uncomfortable or negative- money troubles, confrontations, etc. – and finding joy and purpose in them even if they don’t help me towards specific long term goals. It takes constant self-reminders that struggle is a gift that I should not take for granted because it’s all pushing me to discover levels of inner strength or calm or strategy that I didn’t know I possessed. This practice builds on all three forms of happiness, and eventually when I’ve internalized this thought pattern, there are no more bad days, just challenges that make me more clever and resourceful.

  • Akinsola says:

    I would surely go for an happy life,it is not certain that you can always have a good day as a result of certain circumstances and we all have few moment of happiness, but an Happy life is a choice with few tough times but worth it at the end.

  • Patrenia says:

    The type I think about the most is the happy life, but as a look at your next sentence after the question, it’s probably best to think about the happy moments. Having happy moments and relishing them keeps tends to keep your thoughts more in the present. So I guess I’d have to go for striving for a balance between the two…happy moments and a happy life. 🙂

  • Christy King says:

    A few years ago I would have agreed that the three types of of happiness are rarely in harmony with each other other, but now I don’t believe that has to be true.

    My husband and I have begun simplifying our lives, inside and out, and as part of that we work on appreciating what we have throughout the day.

    Right now I feel that we’re learning to structure our lives to keep all three types working together more often than not.

  • Jett says:

    I understand the idea of pursuing happiness, but it’s also okay to be sad. It’s okay to even be depressed. Having happiness as a goal is like having no more cloudy skies as a goal. You can’t possibly expect that and attaching your emotions to such an outcome is guaranteeing that you will fail at your happiness hunt. And that’s not even to mention, that yes, not every life is guaranteed a “happy” ending. Some are even tragic beyond anyone’s control. But that doesn’t make it not also amazing and beautiful.

    I believe it’s less about happiness and more about appreciation. Appreciate the moment, appreciate the day, appreciate your life.

    Like I once told a frustrated mother, myself a father, “it’s not about being appreciated, it’s about being appreciative.”

  • Cali says:

    Maybe… Work on your long-term goals and enjoy the present while doing so! Find the balance and don’t beat yourself up if you go too far to one side or the other every now and again.

  • I find a good balance is the key. The generation before me tend to believe that you have to live your whole life chained to a job you may not like in order to be happy for your last 20 years or so. I don’t believe this – although I do believe in building something of substance for my future. It’s a fine line…

    Sounds like a thought-provoking book – will check it out.

  • Trey says:

    How do you have long-term happiness if you can’t be happy today? Isn’t today part of that timeline? I think it’s important to keep in mind what will make you happy for a lifetime but don’t put off happiness for a later date – there’s no guarantee you’ll make it to that date. Further, I’m not sure true happiness exists without some struggle, so not every day or moment will be be happy.

  • That’s an interesting point. I think there’s still a relationship between all those types of happiness. Many key in-the-moment happinesses combine to form an overall happy day. So would an overall week or year of happy days lead to an overall happy life?

  • Sam says:

    We cannot define happiness in our lives (at the present time or in the future) without experiencing opposite feelings. Without sadness, there is no happiness. By only wishing to have happiness, we miss life most important lesson: the only way to have a happy life, is to embrace the difficult moments life has to offer.

  • Jasmine says:

    Great food for thought 🙂 I’m constantly considering everyday happiness because it’s the type I lack. My challenge is to find a way to make the journey feel like the ultimate desire. You can’t grasp a more free and independent lifestyle, while holding onto a steady paycheck.

  • Gita says:

    Funny, I don’t think of happiness. I simply am … happy. And then I think that Happiness in the state of balance in one’s life, and when I am off balance, I simply work toward being happy again.

    I do find that if I do something/anything that doesn’t vibe well with me, I am unhappy, for the moment and on and off. As someone else mentioned not being happy is as much part of life as happiness, and the trick is to deal with the ratio! Happily, that is in our hands.

    Life is happiness, live it so!

  • Susanna says:

    I had to choose to be happy, after a lifetime of self-pity and anger. Writing gratitude lists every night and meditating every morning helps lay the foundation for a happy life and a good day, and makes it easier to not engage in self-destructive behavior. Especially the meditation. I also love working freelance because I have the freedom to take off and do things that recharge my soul but don’t pay as well as my rent job, like traveling to cover electric motorcycle races for gas2.org. Happy moments are strongest when I try to live in gratitude, then I notice what’s awesome and appreciate it.

  • Rebecca says:

    I couldn’t agree more for long term happiness – only we don’t always know that we will have enough time to reach those goals so that’s where the now happiness must come in. I think, personally, its a really simple solution. –

    If your doing something that makes you happy – keep doing it.

    If your not happy – stop – change it.

    But I also very much believe in goals! short, long or medium – completing the things you really want is what will make you happy in that long term period and the success along the way will cover the short term happiness – does that make sense? lol

  • Interesting I had not really thought about happiness this way. But I would say that I focus on a happy life. I’m always looking to the future rather than now, which probably isn’t the best but it motivates me.

  • Inge says:

    Interesting food for thought!

    I think establishing a happy life has to do with knowing and living according to your personal values. Additionally, you can create the best basis for contentment and happiness through decisions such as: where to live, what job to do, what goals to strive for, whom to share your life with. I deliberately make time for these questions on a yearly basis and they may pop up more often when something is off. Lately, it’s been the question where to live, triggered by loud (as in: shouting) new neighbours.

    Then, when things are going in the right direction, you can focus on having happy days and happy moments along the way. I don’t really think about creating happiness, though. I am one of the generally content people and continue to practice noticing happiness when it is there. If there are too many days of low happiness, I do think about how to change the situation.

    It’s all about the balance, as other people have said.

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  • lucia says:

    This is very interesting, as I was reading I start asking myself: Am I Happy?
    The answer, overall, is yes I am happy. I look backwards in my life and I have achieved must of the things I wanted to achieve (except one but it has been in standby for a bit due to other quests).

    Do I feel happy everyday? No. Some days (like today) I just don’t enjoy the ride. That made me think on something I read in another post: enjoy the journey. The fact is I tend to look at the quest and I address it as task that needs to be fulfilled with efficiency and urgency. So instead of enjoying the process I just do everything possible to have it done well and nicely.

    Note for myself: Enjoy the journey…

  • andrey says:

    it is difficult to obtain three kinds of happiness at once, if I exercise I feel that this is a good day but if my holidays with my family feel the moment of happiness 🙂

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