Stay Happy and Live Longer

Mar 18, 2011
Outside Magazine

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Different types of happiness have different levels of importance, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Eudaimonic well-being, caused by engaging in meaningful activity, is more important to physical health than short-term pleasure or positive feelings.

In other words, people who live with a sense of purpose will likely live longer and enjoy better mental health than people who focus on immediate happiness. So, for example, winning your March Madness bracket might give you hedonic well-being, which is fleeting, but a decade of coaching your kids' basketball team -- through all its ups and downs -- will be more fulfilling in the long run. "Sometimes things that really matter most are not conducive to short-term happiness," says Carol Ryff, a professor and director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Eudaimonic and hedonic well-being overlap, of course, but people who primarily seek rewards such as fame and fortune aren't as happy, according to Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology, psychiatry and education at the University of Rochester. Ed Diener, a retired professor at the University of Illinois, says the best way to improve eudaimonic happiness is to focus on relationships and work you enjoy: "Quit sitting around worrying about yourself, and get focused on your goals."

--Whitney Dreier


Filed To: Science

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