Erik Van Alstine

Erik Van Alstine

Author. Leadership strategist. Expert in Perceptual IntelligenceTM.

Happiness: Good Things at a Good Pace

I think it’s interesting how people look for “lasting happiness.” The myth is that they can arrive somewhere in life or experience an event and be happy forever.

  • If I found the love of my life, I’d live happily ever after.
  • If I got that new job, I’d find true happiness.
  • If I got a new car I’d enjoy it for many years.

Then the honeymoon phase ends. My husband farts all the time and I can’t handle it. The new job doesn’t feel that new or great anymore. Man this is tough and my boss is killing me. The new car loses the new car feel in just a couple months. I’m ready to upgrade but stuck with this for the next three years.  

So we’re disappointed and frustrated. We expected the good feelings to last longer, and this false expectation creates despair. We swing the pendulum to the other side and say, “things won’t make you happy, so it’s a waste to chase after them.”

We err on one side by believing the feelings should last, then err on the other side by abandoning the feelings altogether. It reminds me of protestant reformer Martin Luther’s observation that “The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side.”

There are all sorts of good things that don’t last. Take showers and meals for example. It’s ridiculous to believe a shower will make us clean forever or a meal can make us full forever.

But it’s just as ridiculous to believe showers and meals are a waste because they don’t last and can’t make us “truly full.” 

Showers and meals are great. For a little while. And in that little while we should enjoy them, while also knowing that they don’t last and that we’ll need another shower tomorrow and another meal in a few hours. We should get pleasure from the shower and the meal, while resisting the false hope that these pleasures will last longer than they’re designed to.

The point is, we’re not supposed to get permanent happiness from the things of life. Rather, we’re supposed to get a series of happy emotions from a series of good things.

This is why I’ve been defining happiness this way:


This is my fourth blog entry about the nature and origins of happiness, a look at the phrase, “at a good pace.” If you go back and read the other articles in the series, you’ll see that we’ve been unpacking this definition to better understand the nature and origins of happiness. Here’s the list of blog entries:

  1. What is happiness? Here’s where we introduce my formal definition and see how hard it is to define happiness accurately.
  2. Happiness: A Pattern of Positive Emotion. Here’s where we see the difference between one happy emotion and a series of happy emotions.
  3. Happiness from Seeing Good Things Happen. Here’s where we show how we can experience good things directly and indirectly (through imagination and memory), and how the amount of “experiences” is up to us, not circumstance.

Okay, so back to this good pace idea. There’s a proper pace to the things of life, and the quicker we find that pace, the better things will be.

Think about the pace of showers and meals. When we take a daily shower, things are good. But things aren’t as good when we take monthly showers. The good pace is thirty times a month, not once a month. When the pace is right, life is better.

Same with meals. We feel good when we eat 3-5 times a day. If we ate 3-5 times a week, we’d be miserable. The pace is off.

In the same way, there’s a “good pace” to the good experiences of life that make us feel happy. We need a certain amount of these good experiences in a certain amount of time to live a happy life.

What’s the pace for good happenings? It’s easy to know the right pace for showers and meals, but what about the pace of good happenings that create lasting happiness?

The research is in, and it’s specific. We’ll see it in tomorrow’s post.

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