When is the last time you felt absolutely elated? You know, that feeling of ecstatic, euphoric, joyous, glee where you feel as though you may jump out of your skin with excitement. I get that feeling with live music. When I know that one of my favorite bands are about to hit the stage. The energy in the concert hall is so palpable, that sometimes my face starts to hurt from smiling so much. I can also remember that feeling of total elation when I was accepted to study in my first graduate program, as I knew that I had come through some tough competition to secure my spot in my chosen program.
Elation is a great feeling. You feel the adrenaline pumping and the positive endorphins being released; in those moments you wonder how you could ever feel sadness, discouragement or general unhappiness.
Elation is a good thing, but it’s important to know that being elated is not the same thing as being happy.
We all chase happiness, and we all take steps in our lives to experience euphoria, joy and that feeling of being beside oneself with excitement. We book vacations that we look forward to. We save our money so that we can buy a new car or technological device to stay on the cutting edge. We compete for opportunities with hopes that we are the ones who come out on top. We go out to eat at restaurants in order to enjoy a nice social vibe while satisfying our hunger. When we achieve and experience the things we strive for, we feel absolutely elated, but the feeling doesn’t always equate to happiness.
An elated person is someone who feels joy, bliss and excitement episodically. It’s a positive response to something you believe will cause you happiness. Elation is an excellent feeling, but it doesn’t make you a happy person. Happiness is a far greater state of being.
Happiness can be described as FREQUENT positive emotions and INFREQUENT negative emotions. Being a happy person doesn’t guard you from life’s difficulties and doesn’t guarantee you’ll never feel emotions of anxiety or stress, but it truly is a state of mind, a consistent feeling, and your default disposition.
When we look back to Aristotle, he believed that happiness was a virtue and a condition that depended on ourselves. It was in his work Nicomachean Ethics where he laid a lot of the foundation of the science behind happiness. In this work he asks the question, “What is the purpose of human existence?” What is our end goal in life?
Ask yourself this: “What is the purpose of my existence?”
It is a very complex question, a question the philosophical field of existentialism has been trying to ask for centuries, but you don’t have to take on the question in the ways that Kant, Nietzsche or Kierkegaard and their contemporaries did, but you can easily take this question and focus it in on yourself.
What is the purpose of your existence?
For me, when I boil it down, I know that I pursue many things in my life with the goal of feeling elated. I’m not alone in this. I do get excited by being able to purchase something I’ve saved for. As an avid traveler, I get overjoyed when I book a vacation and have some time off. I like to pursue adventures and thrills as well, and find ways to do this throughout my year. But when I really think of it, the purpose of my existence is first and foremost to be a loving support to my wife and other family members. These are the people who mean the absolute most to me. Second, I feel I am working towards the purpose of my existence through the work I do. Every day, I get to help people out of difficult situations as an Emergency Room doctor and also work with inspiring leaders through our coaching work. I find happiness in knowing that I have my whole future ahead of me to continue to define my purpose.
Elation is a wonderful feeling, and we can all pursue the feelings associated with elation throughout our lives, but elation should be valued one’s life with caution. Elation happens when we have completed a struggle towards a goal or obstacle. It’s a great feeling, but can often be short-lived and difficult to sustain. Happiness occurs when the positive feelings associated with elation are distributed evenly, consistently and in a balanced way throughout your life.
How can you move to a series of episodes of elation to understanding whether you are truly happy? I certainly can’t provide the secret to happiness in this blog post, but I would like to propose some questions for self-reflection that you can ask yourself about your own happiness:
· What are the things I am most grateful for in my life?
· What are the things in my life I place the most importance on?
· What am I committed to?
· How would others describe my disposition?
· Do the decisions I make for myself contribute towards short-term satisfaction or long-term happiness?
· Is my own happiness a priority?
· What is the purpose of my existence?
Taking the time to do a “happiness audit” for yourself may reveal some things about the decisions you are making for your life, what you are pursuing in your life, and how you are pursuing it. Taking time to assess your own happiness may be what you need to be able to put yourself first and help yourself define the purpose of your own existence.
Is your life a series of episodes of elation or are you truly happy?