I once saw a Daily Show episode where John Stewart responded to President Obama’s statement that “this is America: we don’t do what’s easy, we do what’s necessary” by holding up a jar of Baconnaise (bacon spread for sandwiches). Stewart sarcastically retorted that Americans love doing what’s easy – so much that products like Baconnaise exist for people who love bacon but don’t want to exert the minimal effort of cooking it. With the industry of “happiness” rapidly on the rise, and the science of happiness rushing to keep up, we might expect that positivity gurus will promise products and solutions that spread happiness with the same kind of ease as spreading Baconnaise on a sandwich. I think we need to check our expectations.
Sometimes the experience of joy is spontaneous and fleeting. Experiencing joy in this way feels easy and immediate, much like the instant gratification of spreading Bacconaise on a sandwich. However, much of the research on happiness shows that we need to make intentional and regular effort to cultivate our well-being.
Consider the analogy of exercising regularly to maintain physical health. Although I’m in decent physical health right now, I can’t give up my gym membership because I’ve achieved a state of physical health. Staying physically healthy is an ongoing process that requires being active and cultivating healthy eating habits on a daily basis. I think that we need to view happiness and well-being in the same way: they need to be cultivated with ongoing and intentional effort. Our Happiness Habits offer suggestions about the many research-based ways that we can cultivate happiness and well-being on a regular basis.
While trips to the gym when we are tired or stressed can feel like a drag, so can practicing happiness habits. However, if we want to experience happiness on a regular basis we need to determine what sacrifices and investments will lead to our long-term well-being. We must also be willing to practice and implement these habits through the good and the bad times.