Human emotions are a chaotic mix of tangled, (im)pure, deep, and often contradictory thoughts and feelings, like everything else in our lives. According to one research, positive and negative emotions and effects can coexist in our brains relatively independently of each other. This research tells us that the right hemisphere processes negative emotions preferentially, whereas positive emotions are managed by the left-sided brain.
It is worth knowing that biologically speaking, humans are not designed to be happy. Sounds incredible, right? However, it is true. Humans are designed to survive and reproduce, not to be happy. These are undoubtedly challenging tasks. Humans are meant to struggle, fight and strive, seek safety and gratification, fight off threats and avoid getting hurt. However, this doesn’t stop us from wanting to be happy.
Happiness is often placed at the top of personal goals, way above material successes. Even as children, we mostly want to hear stories that end with ‘happily ever after.’ At the same time, happiness is often elusive and hard to achieve, so we tend to question whether we will ever be happy. The answer depends on what we mean by happiness.
Are we meant to be positive all the time? Well, no. But are we meant to live meaningful lives? Certainly so. Even though this research shows that odds may not be in our favor, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to live meaningful and fulfilled lives. As with everything else, happiness takes continuous effort.
Two Approaches to Happiness
There are two general approaches to achieving happiness: a hedonic, pleasure-oriented approach and eudaimonic, fully-realized. One promotes the idea of being happy when we feel happy. The other explains that you don’t have to feel happy to be truly happy.
When it comes to the hedonic approach, things are pretty obvious. This approach is characterized as the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance or minimizing suffering. But, if happiness means chasing positive emotions and avoiding negative ones, we are doomed to chase them forever. Remember, evolution has shaped us this way.
It’s not normal nor possible to feel only positive emotions, nor is it necessary. Negative emotions play vital roles in our lives, and cutting them out can do us more harm than good.
On the other hand, the eudaimonic approach to happiness is less about feeling good and more about trying to BE good. To quote researchers Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci: “Well-being is not so much the result or end state as it is a process of fulfilling or realizing one’s daimon or true nature – that is, of fulfilling one’s virtuous potentials and living as one was inherently intended to live.”
This may sound off-putting because most of us are focused on going through our daily obligations rather than thinking about our virtuous potential. But here lies the wonder of a meaningful life! As famous psychologist David Fieldman says: “The most satisfying forms of meaning may blossom not when we pursue them directly, but when we instead seek love, beauty, justice.”
The secret to a happy, meaningful life is to remind ourselves every day to do the right thing, love, help others, and pursue different experiences while learning from the negative ones. The Eudaimonic approach to happiness teaches us this ultimate rule – happiness is not a goal but a way of life.