If you were to ask people what experiences makes them happy, you'd get a variety of answers that typically center around things that make them feel pleasure. A big bear-hug from their child, catching a glimpse of a sunset at just the right moment, sharing uncontrolled laughter with a dear friend. It's often said that life is all about these simple pleasures, but happiness researcher Shawn Achor says his findings indicate that true happiness is actually about something else.
When giving a talk about happiness for OWN's "SuperSoul Sessions" speaker series, Achor explained why tying happiness to pleasure doesn't capture the true sense of the word. In his work as a researcher, he says, there's a much better definition of happiness they've uncovered.
"We didn't define happiness as pleasure, which is so quick and so short," Achor says. "We defined happiness as the joy you feel [when] moving towards your potential."
There is a critical difference between pleasure and joy, he continues, and this is why it's possible to still feel a sense of deep happiness even in life's more unpleasant moments that make you feel tired, pained or over-worked.
"Joy is something you can experience even when life is not pleasurable," Achor says. "Even in the midst of a long run, when your legs are burning, you can still feel joy. You can feel it working long hours [on] a project, or when waking up at one and two and three in the morning with a little 1-year-old ... You can still feel joy even with not high levels of pleasure."
Though most people say they want to be happy, Achor's research has also shown that there's an underlying sense of fear when it comes to the pursuit of happiness.
"What we've been finding is, people are afraid of happiness. They're afraid of happiness because they think we'll stagnate or we'll be blind, that if I'm happy now, I won't keep fighting as hard. If I'm happy now, I won't push as hard to make a better world," Achor says. "That's what pleasure does. Joy does the exact opposite."
"Joy makes us want to invest more deeply in the people around us," he continues. "It makes us want to learn more about our communities. It makes us want to be able to find ways of being able to make this a better external world for all of us."
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