This week we’ve been digging deeper into the subject of “happiness” – what it is, how to define it, and the different ways we go after it. The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, gave four levels to the definition of happiness, and they are just as applicable today as they were 2400 years ago.
It comes to mind that there may be an additional aspect that we can use to rank these levels of happiness, to help us choose how we want to live our lives. Plato offered these three criteria to help with the decision-making process:
- The longer happiness lasts, the better. Considering the number of happiness-producing events for an individual, family or organization, then those that have the longest-lasting effects can be seen as being a higher level than those that only last a short time. It’s long-term thinking vs. short-term, long-term solutions vs. short-term reactions.
- The more pervasive happiness is, the better. In other words, if the happiness spreads beyond self to a group or organization, the larger positive effect it will have. With a larger scope, the happiness-producing event has greater value. The “see the ice cream; eat the ice cream” event is an individual experience and does virtually nothing beyond the individual. However, creating a product or service that enhances the lives of a multitude of people, grows the scope and has greater value.
- The deeper the happiness is, the better. Now what do we mean by “deep”? In Plato’s terms, he was talking about the full use of our capabilities. When we use our powers, our capabilities, to create enduring and pervasive good, we make ourselves happy in a deeply satisfying way. At the same time, we are bringing a high level of happiness to the world.
- If we use these criteria to evaluate our decisions and actions, we will discover a greater sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. We will find ourselves living at that level of Contribution without having to struggle. Our mindset – our habits, attitudes and beliefs – shifts in order to support these new values.
Now, it is not necessary to give up Instant Gratification or Competition, in order to move to Contribution, and we don’t need to give up these three to pursue the Ultimate. When we thoughtfully choose the levels we want to experience, expand what we want and decide how to go about getting it, based on our values, we will find that we live more fulfilling lives.