The Self-Perpetuating Cycle Of Happiness

How To Feel Happy Right Now (& How It Can Help You Find Happiness In The Long-Run)

Instant Happiness

For a long time now, people have largely believed that the pursuit of instant happiness is usually (if not always) mutually exclusive of long-term life satisfaction, social connectedness, and sense of purpose  [1]. As a result, we generally talk about lasting vs. instant happiness as an either/or situation: Either you can find happiness in your life in the long-run, or you can be happy right now. You can’t have both.

In theory, that’s because seeking instant happiness almost always means taking the easy way out of any difficult/uncomfortable situation. It holds you back, preventing you from making hard choices or persevering through challenges to cultivate authentic happiness [2].

In reality, that isn’t necessarily true.


What Really Happens When You Experience Instant Happiness?

Physiologically speaking, the feeling of instant happiness comes from a combination of neurochemicals that flood your brain in different concentrations when you experience something gratifying or pleasantly stimulating [3]. Scientifically speaking, that means instant happiness is a kind of affective happiness (it makes you feel good in the present moment) [4].

“Instant happiness,” then, can be thought of as a kind of umbrella term that also includes short-lived feelings of pleasure, joy, enthusiasm, and pride. Moreover, it is the temporary absence or non-observance of negative feelings.

Today, researchers — and their study findings — increasingly support the idea that lasting and instant happiness may be much more complementary than previously thought. Specifically, augmenting your pursuit of authentic happiness by genuinely indulging in moments of instant happiness can create a self-perpetuating cycle wherein happiness is compounding.


How Instant Happiness Impacts Your Potential To Be Happy In The Future

Instant happiness can provide a “boost” to long-term feelings of well-being (lasting happiness) that can be maintained by intentionally seeking instant happiness; likewise, feeling a greater sense of well-being primes the brain to more easily recognize and experience moments of instant happiness [5, 6]. As a result, seeking instant happiness may help people experience greater lasting happiness (and maintain it more easily) than strict self-control or denial of everyday indulgences alone.

In that way, allowing yourself to fully enjoy instant happiness can do more than just lift your mood in the moment, and it doesn’t necessarily derail you. This can be a highly effective, sustainable way to augment your efforts to find happiness in your life; seeking both instant and lasting happiness (in balanced proportions) makes both easier to achieve.

You just have to cultivate instant happiness the right way.


Navigating The Challenges To Happiness

The “right” way, in this case, means building a better understanding of what makes you feel even momentarily joyous, connected, and/or fulfilled. It’s about your personal attitude and actions, not your optics or aesthetics.

Moreover, a critical part of finding happiness in today’s world is navigating the “happiness anxiety” that comes from engaging with different media (especially social media) and internalizing unrealistic and dissonant ideas about happiness [7]. When it comes to instant happiness, happiness anxiety can push people to seek experiences that are not personally gratifying or pleasant. When it comes to lasting, authentic happiness, people experiencing happiness anxiety may make their sense of life satisfaction and purpose contingent on “keeping up” with what is trending and/or getting approval from other people.


Everyone Wants To Be Happy Right Now, But Not Everyone Feels They Can

It’s worth noting that people who prioritize self-control over self-indulgence likely still want to feel good in the moment.

Studies show that people tend to desire any and all kinds of happiness above other competing attributes of a satisfying life (including educational attainment and familial/romantic relationships as well as career success and income level) except physical health [8]. Moreover, most people would prefer to feel happy right now if they had a choice between instant happiness and lifelong satisfaction and a sense of purpose [8].

These findings suggest that some people feel like they do not have the choice to indulge in instant happiness without sacrificing or undermining their potential for long-term life satisfaction.


Instant Happiness Isn’t Hard To Find

There are innumerable immediately gratifying and pleasantly stimulating experiences possible during everyday life. That includes, for example:

  • Winning something;
  • Being praised or complimented;
  • Listening to music you like;
  • Eating your favorite food;
  • Smiling and laughing;
  • Looking at photographs of people you care about or from fond memories;
  • Practicing gratitude;
  • Seeking a broader perspective of your reality [9].

With so many different everyday activities acting as potential sources of short-term pleasure, the long-held belief that instant happiness detracts from progress towards a happy future can cause people a lot of guilt and stress. That’s why many people neglect, try to bypass, or only half-heartedly participate in moments of instant happiness in their day-to-day lives. Yet the pursuit of lasting happiness via strict self-control actually inhibits getting to be happy, and people who fully indulge in and allow themselves to enjoy instant happiness tend to feel more lasting and authentic happiness than their self-controlled peers [10].


The Best Ways To Be Happy Right Now

The exact actions and experiences that cause instant happiness are, by nature, incredibly intimate and individualized. Nevertheless, there are a few tried-and-true practices for feeling instant happiness the right way:

Positive Mental Reframing: This process involves answering a series of simple questions that reframe unhappiness as a navigable challenge rather than an unsolvable problem (“Am I happy?”; “What obstacle(s) is/are in the way of getting to be happy?”; “Am I willing to accept being unhappy or impeded by these things?”; “So what am I going to do about it?”) [11].

Learning Body Hacks For Instant Happiness: For example, simply modifying your body positioning by sitting up straight or standing up can prompt the neurochemical release that’s characteristic of instant happiness [12]. Likewise, going outside, walking around, and inverting your body (doing a headstand, for example) can also cause immediate happiness [13].

Identify The Intersection Of Instant & Lasting Happiness: Considering that most long-term goals consist of an immense number of small achievements and accomplishments, it is even possible to link instant happiness directly to the pursuit of life goals. This requires only that you learn to celebrate and derive joy from small successes [14].


The Road To Finding Happiness Isn’t A Lonely One

All this being said, there are a few important things to remember:

  1. It is necessary to seek balance between indulging in instant happiness and working toward lasting, authentic happiness; too much of either will diminish your ability to do both [10].
  2. Learning how to be happy in any way can be challenging; for instant happiness to be helpful, you have to learn how to find happiness in the moment without feeling negatively about being “distracted” [10].
  3. Lasting and authentic happiness — eudaimonic and evaluative happiness — have to do with improving your overall life satisfaction and giving a person a sense of purpose [4]. Experiencing instant happiness can augment and, to some degree, provide armor for these feelings, but short-term pleasure cannot stand in for feeling purposeful or fulfilled in life.
  4. If you are struggling to find balance, learn how to be happy in the moment, or discover your purpose, we can help!




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