What really makes someone happy? This is the final part article into how long-term happiness is found beyond our ego.
When I started initial research into this subject I had no idea it would be of much interest to readers, but it seems like there’s many of us out there who might feel as though we ‘should’ be happy in everyday life but for some reason or another (which we’ve uncovered in this 3 part series) we have blocks in our path or a misunderstanding of what is really going on in our mind.
We can assume that filling our exterior life with so much will lead to happiness, that an abundance and positivity-led mindset will generate external happiness, but we have learned that isn’t the case, and that we are actually happier when we are at first catering for our survival needs, and then seeking to ensure we aren’t so comfortable or overwhelmed in choice.
This third part looks into our survival thinking limitation, and how our ‘ego’ (that originally develops as part of our survival needs) can end up holding us back once a certain level of survival is met, and why purpose in ourselves isn’t always enough to be happy, but our impact on others is.
However, this third part shows us that our quest for happiness isn’t just based on our own need for survival, but leads towards a bigger need beyond our own ego.
If you haven’t read the first two parts then the main triggers for happiness are essentially in:
- A curiosity to keep learning, and aiming to do so with variety and purpose.
- An acceptance of failing and letting go of things that out of our control.
- A desire to keep connecting with others.
- A delayed gratification that leads towards a more sustained purpose within ourselves.
The final key to long-term happiness will be revealed in this article.
Why Long-Term Happiness Is So Hard To Maintain
If we were to implement the first 4 keys to long-term happiness we would likely find that we would be pretty happy on the whole.
We could keep boosting our happiness with short-term boosts, activities, and new experiences. We could ensure we have enough social aspects to our lives, enough survival grounding in ensuring physical needs are met, and learn to ignore what doesn’t have to concern us such as being sucked into the influence of bad news each day.
We could also have found something more purposeful within ourselves that isn’t found in that first level of long-term happiness and ensure our life is filled with purpose and delayed gratification so we have challenges to work towards and enjoy.
Surely, that would be enough to ensure our long-term happiness?
It might, IF we weren’t typical human beings and have an inbuilt need to keep learning, keep social, and keep being challenged.
The very aspect of our hard-wired survival mechanisms means that we will keep seeking to improve on what we have, and at some point, we won’t be happy anymore with what would become the same ‘happy’ status quo.
The very initial keys to our happiness can actually lead us to become unhappy in the long run.
Short-term happiness is fine. That’s easy, but despite many ways today to instantly gratify ourselves to ‘feel’ happy momentarily it becomes hard to keep up the act, even with the biggest abundant mentality out there.
We would have to keep working every day towards maintaining this level of happiness, which means a lot of conscious dedication, meditation, and positive affirmations.
People try it, a lot, but there’s a fundamental flaw to this logic. This act takes up a lot of energy. Despite us thinking we are building positive energy from it, the act itself of short-term happiness boosts becomes a bit like a drug. We need more and more to sustain that buzz, and eventually, we just crash and burn.
Humans aren’t designed for utopias, we are built for survival.
Is There A Way To Maintain Long-Term Happiness?
It would be easiest to just say no. The end. What an anti-climax, but that would firstly be a poor way to end such a time-consuming and involved study, and it would also not be strictly true.
After all, there are people who are seemingly very happy people the majority of the time. How do they maintain this level of happiness?
Well, I do what I do best, and I researched and investigated it.
I spoke to a group of self-proclaimed ‘happy people’. What was interesting was how this wasn’t a set group, a tribe, or happy cult, but it was people from different walks of life in different situations.
I received emails from the last two articles saying that they were happy people on the whole, and whilst most agreed to the ‘keys of happiness’ they also gave insight into what has become the third-layer tier towards happiness, mainly because this key leads towards more prolonged long term happiness.
The first level we found were survival-led layers that some very old folks in Japan had lived by, and that is certainly a key to a long life, but is that really long-term happiness?
The second layer adds to that in how a certain level of comfort actually brings about extended challenges for maintaining happiness and why we have to find a more holistic purpose to keep challenging ourselves to work towards, and how we can use deep introspection or meditation to bring out this anti-fragile ability to improve under stress.
This third layer coincides with a lot of other research I’ve been doing around the ‘yellow stage’ of Spiral Dynamics, in that it seems to lead towards the breakdown of ego, and in the increase of impact.
From speaking to a selection of people who seem to have reached this state it didn’t seem to matter as much whether they had comforts anymore. Things like money became less important to them, as did the validation of being ‘seen’ to do good or be popular in life.
They didn’t seem to be poverty-bound or hippy-living freethinkers either though.
Whilst the pool of people wasn’t large enough to create a full evidence-backed conclusion it did seem to suggest that when people find a small level of comfort and stop trying to fight in the world for survival (building their ego) their minds are allowed to blossom into a state which goes beyond their own selfish needs.
That second layer stage is crucial though as without it they would likely still be falling into ego-led instant gratification, but instead, they became much better at letting things go AND seeking to challenge themselves.
We see this in the world a lot. In people, businesses, and governments. A constant vie for attention, a survival mindset. It leads to the more is more attitude and a developed ego that wishes (somewhere beneath) for something more impactful but which is fixated on the game of survival.
A lot of these people have comfort, they just want more and more of it. They may also seek more knowledge, more friends, more stuff, but with more comes less delayed gratification, and we know where that leads.
To get to that third layer, which takes us into more long-term happiness, we have to push through an uncomfortable transition in the second layer, where we slowly get used to needing less again, but only less of self-inflicting needs.
We are human and we are built for evolving, for growth, so we do still need more of something, only this time we need more of something that isn’t directly attached to our ego, but to that impact we can create in the world.
It might seem daft to suggest that we aren’t getting something out of building something in the world, or looking out for strangers more than our own needs, but the second layer of happiness should’ve built that anti-fragility within us, so we know our needs are already met and we don’t need more stuff for ourselves to be happy anymore.
Instead, we start seeking a legacy.
How To Begin To Build This Third Tier Of Happiness?
What can we do to leave a mark, a positive impact on humanity?
We don’t do this for ego though, we do this almost for duty, as it comes without judgement, on ourselves or on others.
We don’t do it to scratch someone else’s back so they can scratch ourselves, but for internal value that goes beyond ego. Ego would tell us we need something fulfilling still, that we are still somewhat insecure about a lacking in our life, but those people who get to this layer of happiness seem somewhat fulfilled, and now they can dedicate their life towards the altruistic improvement of humanity.
This doesn’t mean they all quit their jobs and join non-profit charities though, or they don’t still want to achieve or experience other new goals within them too. They do, but their main purpose becomes on the goal of impact.
What frustrates a lot of people who haven’t got to that stage of development yet is how they might think they need to build their ego, build their castle higher, build up their army of friends etc. but they are doing it for the wrong reasons, to keep them (unconsciously) secure, and not because they altruistically want to help beyond their own survival needs.
We end up seeing a lot of people virtue-signal or move from this selfish personal capitalism-led mindset to one of altruistic posing, saying they want to do something good for the world, but also not willing to drop their own needs, their own ego, or their own comforts for it. This only leads to that frustrating place between needing instant gratification and validation still, and wanting to add something more impactful.
It’s a point where people then become frustrated and unhappy as they don’t know how to get there, so they likely fight harder, albeit for good causes and change, for civil rights and equality etc.
It does give them a sense of purpose but they still don’t feel truly happy underneath, and if anything they can become more frustrated and riled up about a cause.
I would say we are seeing quite a lot of this in today’s world at the moment, but in order to help people move on towards this apparent third tier of long-term happiness, we have to start by filtering back towards tier two first.
We have to learn to calm our ego, and meditation and anti-fragility training can help here, as can more creative-led visualisation and problem-solving techniques, as we need to train our minds to almost enjoy those challenges again as we found in the second part article, but then through this process we will find something more purpose-led and impact-driven to focus our minds on, something more external to survival needs, something more altruistic-led, but something that still gives us a personal purpose and ensures physical needs are met.
Again, to know exactly what that is isn’t the point, it’s all about holistic improvement and not a specific purpose, but we do need something to focus our minds on that will be a project bigger than ourselves, or a project that brings much more leverage and scope than we can do on our own.
Finding this can take time but the search is worth it, and it will arguably become easier and more and more of us are figuring out that the true long-term happiness of an individual doesn’t come from fulfilling survival needs but from building our lives towards a shared vision that helps humanity move along together, and therefore we are finding more and more areas we can feel we can positively impact our world through to help solve pressing and future problems in our world.
The Final 5 Keys Towards Long-Term Happiness
When we consider the final 5 key elements towards happiness then it should look like this:
- A curiosity to keep learning, and aiming to do so with variety and purpose (Tier 1)
- An acceptance of failing and letting go of things that out of our control (Tier 1)
- A desire to keep connecting with others (Tier 1)
- A delayed gratification that leads towards a more sustained purpose within ourselves (Tier 2)
- An active-minded positive impact we can get involved in to help humanity and leave a legacy (Tier 3)