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Chasing the Tail of Happiness

by Will Graebe |

Happiness is a hot topic in the self-help world. There are more than 20,000 books that have been published with “happiness” in the title. An entire industry has been built around the goal of happiness. But do we even know what we mean when we say we want to be happy, and should it be our ultimate goal? I would suggest that there is something far greater than simple happiness. That something is the concept of well-being.

What do we know about happiness? We know that it is fleeting. The feeling of happiness is generated by something that happens that we perceive as good. When something good happens, certain hormones or neurotransmitters are released in our body that make us feel a sense of positive emotion. But that good feeling is always followed by a return to a neutral state (homeostasis). In other words, happiness is a temporary state of being. In addition to being temporary, we also know that we cannot be in a perpetual state of happiness. Bad things are going to happen in our lives. People will die. Jobs will be lost. Marriages will end. Storms will destroy our homes. It is not realistic to expect that we will be happy when those things happen. We can actually make ourselves miserable by chasing happiness and trying to avoid negative circumstances and events.

There is something that is bigger and better than mere happiness. It is called well-being. Martin Seligman, the father of the field of positive psychology, defines well-being broadly and includes happiness (or as he describes it positive emotion) in the definition. In Seligman’s definition well-being also includes engagement (in work or personal pursuits), relationships (deep connection with others), meaning (belonging to and serving something bigger than yourself), and accomplishment. While Seligman acknowledges the importance of happiness (positive emotion), he points out that we cannot always be happy. Inevitably, we will face circumstances that create negative emotions. Under Seligman’s model, when we face these adverse circumstances and corresponding negative emotions, we will continue flourishing if we are in a state of well-being.

So, when you experience happiness, enjoy it and be grateful for it. But don’t stop there.

  1. Engage more deeply with your work or personal pursuits. Never stop learning and trying new things.
  2. Deepen your relationships with family and friends. The Harvard Adult Development Study found that relational connection is the number one predictor of longevity and well-being. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable in your relationships. Make it a priority to be a supportive and trustworthy friend or family member.
  3. Find ways to serve something bigger than yourself. Search for deeper meaning in your life. Contribute your time and talents to charitable organizations or faith communities.
  4. Give it your all when pursuing goals and learning new things but let go of the need for a particular outcome. Remember that is not as much about the outcome as it is the journey.


About the Author

Will Graebe

Will Graebe came to Lawyers Mutual in 1998 as claims counsel. In 2009, Will became the Vice President of the Claims Department and served in that role until 2019. After a two-year sabbatical, Will returned to Lawyers Mutual as claims counsel and relationship manager. In his role as claims counsel, Will focuses primarily on claims related to estates and trusts, business transactions and real estate matters. Will received his J.D. from Wake Forest University School of Law and his undergraduate degree from Stetson University. Prior to joining Lawyers Mutual, will worked in private practice with the law firm of Pinna, Johnston & Burwell.  

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