I wondered what this #100happydays that kept appearing in my Instagram feed was all about. Was it another shameless self-promotion of what fabulous lives people are pretending to live 24/7? I checked it out, and happily (no pun intended) it seemed well intentioned. A self-professed happy Swiss man, Dmitry Golubnichy, embarked on a project to see how happy people could be, by submitting a photo each day (either via social media or privately) of something in their lives that made them happy. The photo is for them, by them and under no circumstances are you to use it for social bragging. It seems harmless and if anything, a brilliant idea to train your brain to find happiness in the every day things versus just those once in a blue moon milestone events - weddings, graduation, promotion etc.
I signed up for the challenge. But something did and still does not sit right with me. Despite how well-intentioned the challenge is, I think there's a missing piece to the puzzle and perhaps speaks to the whopping 71% of people who signed up but failed to follow-through on the 100 days, due to lack of 'time'. I don't think it's a 'time' issue we've got on our hands. It's a wider issue surrounding the business of being happy. What it means to be happy is tripping folks up.
My gripe is that there is a perception (exacerbated through social media) that feeling anything but 'happy' means you're failing. Sure it's easy to post the good times when you're feeling on-top of the world - cupcakes, the cute dog on the sidewalk, friends, fabulous parties and holidays. I'm naturally an optimistic person. The glass is always half full but there are times when you just have the blues or aren’t so jazzed about everything in your life …it's called being a regular human being. And when times aren't so rosy, perhaps the social calendar is not jam packed, things are stressful at work, there's a distinct lack of airtime for those "not-so glamorous" emotions. So in the 100 day challenge, have an off day where you're not feeling so great and you may struggle to post a picture of something that made you smile or is on par with societal standards of happiness. Or if you do post, you fall into the trap of the old 'crop, filter and hashtag #awesome' to cover up the real emotional state you're truly in.
Despite what people and society may think and tell us about happiness though- studies have shown that feeling good is not enough. People need meaning to thrive.
We've known for a while that happiness significantly contributes to our health. There's a bounty of information on this. However, what type of happiness it is can make all the difference in the long run.
There's been some fascinating studies conducted recently on how different types of happiness affect the body at the cellular level. Scientists have found that those who are happy but possess little to no sense of meaning in their lives 'just here for the party' so to speak, have the same gene expression patterns as people who are responding to and enduring chronic adversity. Wait! What?! Even if you are having a great time, your body may not be in sync with that?
Let’s dissect that a bit more.
It means that it takes more than just 'hedonic' well-being - pleasure seeking and self-gratification and more 'eudaimonic' well-being - doing good and following your life's purpose, to truly be happy and for your health to be positively affected. While both types of happiness correlate with lower depression levels, only those with eudaimonic happiness - leading a life full of purpose and meaning seems to protect health at the cellular level. And in the case of our online challenge, this kind of eudaimonic happiness may give us the energy to complete the challenge and not fizzle out.
Does this mean we need to find meaning in every little thing we do, or give up on hedonic pleasures that make us feel good? (no more LOLcats, frolicking llamas?!) Not at all! But according to scientists, when hedonic pursuits start to outweigh eudaimonic pursuits, our immune systems gear up for the same immune threats we'd encounter if we were lonely or otherwise socially isolated. This doesn't mean giving up on things that make you smile, but when you can team up those pleasure seeking activities with more purpose and altruistic efforts like helping others, nurturing friendships and throwing ourselves into creative projects that nourish our soul, the effects on our health can be profound.
So, seems we may have had it all back-to-front. Instead of a lifetime chasing happiness, start by creating a meaningful life. One that is beyond a self-driven pursuit to feel good and instead focused on finding joy and meaning in projects and friendships that bring happiness as a byproduct. In the words of the great philosopher John Stuart Mill, “Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.”
Let's take on the 100happyday challenge with one caveat, make sure your efforts are driven by meaningful things to you and it might be more sustainable and the effects, more satisfying.
p.s youtube frolicking llama after reading this for some harmless hedonic pleasure!
 100 Happy Days http://100happydays.com
 Jill Suttie, Psy.D. ‘A Healthier Kind of Happiness’, Greater Good, (published online September 10, 2013), http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/a_healthier_kind_of_happiness