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What are the four happiness archetypes? Do you look forward to a time when you’ll be happier?

In Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar argues that greater happiness is accessible to everyone now. Happiness is not an end goal, but an ongoing journey.

Read below for a brief book overview of Happier.

Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar

Many of us make the mistake of thinking that happiness is life’s end goal. In Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar suggests instead that happiness isn’t a final destination; rather, it’s an ongoing journey in which we must find a balance of pleasure and meaning in our lives. 

Ben-Shahar is a lecturer best known for teaching Positive Psychology, one of Harvard’s most popular courses. A graduate of Harvard University, he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Psychology and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior. After the success of Happier, Ben-Shahar published additional books on the subject, including The Pursuit of Perfect (2009), Choose the Life You Want (2014), and Happier No Matter What (2021). In 2016, Ben-Shahar also co-founded the Happiness Studies Academy, an online platform designed to develop and promote academic programs in the emerging discipline of happiness studies.

What Is Happiness?

According to Ben-Shahar, happiness isn’t a static state or finite destination but an ongoing process of exploring how to find both pleasure and meaning in our daily lives. He explains that pleasure is about immediate gratification—enjoying the present moment and seeking experiences that bring joy, comfort, or sensory delight. Meaning, on the other hand, requires a longer view. It’s the sense of purpose or understanding that what you’re doing contributes to a greater cause or aligns with your values.

Happiness requires finding a balance between pleasure and meaning, says Ben-Shahar. A life focused solely on pleasure without meaning can feel shallow and unfulfilling in the long run, while a meaningful life devoid of pleasure can become burdensome and result in burnout and resentment.

The Four Archetypes

Finding a balance of pleasure and meaning requires us to weigh the present and future benefits of our choices. Ben-Shahar introduces four “Happiness Archetypes” to explain how living too much in the present, focused on pleasure, or too much in the future, focused on meaning, can negatively impact your quality of life. 

Archetype #1: The Pleasure-Seeker

The pleasure-seeker is someone who focuses on the pursuit of immediate pleasure and sensory enjoyment without regard for deeper meaning or long-term satisfaction. A pleasure-seeker is focused on the present and gives little thought to the future. 

Ben-Shahar argues that a life primarily focused on fleeting joy often fails to provide lasting happiness. This short-lived delight leaves individuals constantly craving more. Without any meaningful or purposeful activity, they lack long-term fulfillment. Furthermore, an excessive focus on pleasure can also lead to superficiality or self-indulgence, which makes it harder to forge deep connections with others.

Archetype #2: The Overachiever

The opposite of the pleasure-seeker is the overachiever. According to Ben-Shahar, the overachiever is someone obsessed with advancing in their career, wealth, or status, often at the expense of their personal well-being or happiness. They’re focused only on the future and see the present simply as a stepping stone to higher goals. 

Ben-Shahar cautions that this kind of life, like that of the pleasure-seeker, also breeds discontent and dissatisfaction, but for different reasons. The overachiever functions under the illusion that reaching a certain goal will bring them happiness, ignoring the fact that there will always be another goal to reach—usually more prestige, more money, or more stuff. Furthermore, the focus on personal goals at the expense of all else can erode personal relationships and the ability to enjoy simple daily pleasures.

Archetype #3: The Cynic 

The cynic is someone who lives a life without pleasure or meaning. They believe life is pointless. Rather than pursuing pleasure or meaning, the cynic rejects conventional beliefs about morality, value, or purpose, believing that the present and the future are inconsequential.

Ben-Shahar cautions that this mentality can create an endless cycle of dissatisfaction and despondency. The cynic’s life is marked not by attempts to create meaning or find enjoyment, but by skepticism and distrust toward anything that might offer them. Even when faced with potential joy or achievement, the cynic may dismiss it as insignificant or transient, thus reinforcing their negative worldview. Furthermore, the cynic’s constant skepticism and negativity can estrange them from others, leading to isolation and loss of interpersonal connections, which are key components of happiness. 

Archetype #4: The Happy Camper

Finally, we come to the happy camper—someone who has mastered the art of balanced living. According to Ben-Shahar, a happy camper knows how to savor the pleasures of the present moment while simultaneously setting and working towards meaningful future goals. Such a person considers past experiences as valuable lessons, indulges in present-day joys, and holds clear aspirations for the future.

Ben-Shahar argues a happy camper is most likely to live a satisfying life filled with joy. By relishing in the present and remaining motivated toward the future, the happy camper effortlessly enjoys life’s journey. They firmly believe that delightful present experiences and ambitious future dreams aren’t mutually exclusive.

Ben-Shahar explains that we all have a little of each of these archetypes in us, but that we may tend to gravitate toward one more than another. He suggests that in your pursuit of happiness, you should try to embody the happy camper, someone who enjoys the present moment while simultaneously working toward future goals.

Why Happiness Is a Worthwhile Pursuit

Ben-Shahar acknowledges that for many, pursuing their own happiness makes them uncomfortable. They consider it selfish or frivolous. However, Ben-Shahar disagrees, arguing that there’s no endeavor more worthwhile or profound than the pursuit of happiness. He describes happiness as the “ultimate currency.” He argues happiness, unlike other currencies, is an end in itself—the foundational purpose of life and the yardstick against which all other success should be measured. It enhances the quality of life and improves overall well-being. 

Furthermore, Ben-Shahar explains, happiness isn’t a choice between pursuing self-interest and the interests of others: It isn’t a zero-sum game. He emphasizes that pursuing personal happiness often results in enhanced empathy, generosity, and ability to positively impact others. Consequently, personal well-being and collective well-being are not only compatible pursuits but are often interdependent, creating a virtuous cycle that benefits everybody.

How to Become Happier

Your happiness isn’t predetermined. Research suggests that people’s happiness is influenced by a combination of three factors: genetics, life circumstances, and activities and habits. While we may not have much control over our genetics or life circumstances, Ben-Shahar explains that we do have significant control over our activities and habits—how we choose to spend our time. By choosing to spend your available time engaging in activities that bring you pleasure and meaning, you can significantly increase your overall level of happiness. In the next section, we’ll outline six strategies or mindsets that can help you lead a happier life.

Set Goals

One way to prioritize activities that provide meaning and pleasure is to set goals. Ben-Shahar explains that goals contribute to our happiness by providing us with a sense of purpose and direction. They enable us to organize our time and resources, giving structure to our lives and facilitating our focus on the present. According to Ben-Shahar, having goals is more important than achieving those goals. He explains that the true purpose of setting goals isn’t in their completion but the process of striving toward them.

Ben-Shahar clarifies that your goals should be authentic and intrinsically motivated, what he calls “self-concordant goals.” Unlike typical goals, self-concordant goals are derived from a deep personal conviction or strong interest, making them more personally fulfilling to pursue. Ben-Shahar cites the work of Kennon Sheldon and his colleagues, who argue that people are happier when they pursue goals involving growth, connection, and contribution rather than goals related to money, beauty, or popularity. Identifying self-concordant goals can be challenging, as it requires a high level of self-awareness and the ability to resist external influences and pressures.

Find Your Calling

Most of us will spend most of our lives working, and, according to Ben-Shahar, work is essential for happiness. The challenge lies in finding or creating work that brings both pleasure and meaning. Ben-Shahar cites research that explains that people think of their work in one of three ways—as a job, an obligation with little personal value; a career, focused on end results such as money, status, or power; or a calling, where the work itself is valuable, intrinsically motivating, and seen as a privilege rather than an obligation. 

To find your calling, Ben-Shahar suggests asking yourself three questions: What gives you meaning? What gives you pleasure? What are your strengths? He refers to this as the MPS (Meaning, Pleasure, Strengths) Process.

Ben-Shahar recognizes that not everyone has the luxury to choose work that they find inherently fulfilling. However, he suggests that you can transform your work into a calling by altering your perception, even if your job choices are limited. He insists that happiness is as much a product of our external world (what we do) as it is of our internal world (how we perceive what we do). 

For example, consider a customer service representative who feels their job is repetitive and mundane. By shifting their perception, they can view their work as an opportunity to help solve problems and make customers’ lives easier. Every call or interaction becomes a chance to make a positive difference. This transformation in perception can turn a simple “job” into a meaningful “calling.”

Nurture Healthy Relationships

According to Ben-Shahar, cultivating healthy relationships is also key to finding long-term happiness. Good relationships provide both present and future benefits. They offer immediate emotional support, a sense of belonging, and joy in our daily lives, and they also provide future stability and continuity that help us navigate life changes and challenges. 

Ben-Shahar suggests surrounding yourself with people who love you unconditionally. He explains that unconditional love creates a supportive environment that fosters personal growth and well-being and empowers us to pursue our dreams. Ben-Shahar also stresses that balance is essential in relationships. This means while we might need to compromise on some things, we shouldn’t lose sight of our core values, beliefs, and personal goals. He asserts that a truly healthy relationship won’t demand that we give up essential parts of who we are.

Build Happiness Rituals

Recognizing that constant happiness is unattainable, Ben-Shahar suggests that participating in regular activities that provide meaning and pleasure will contribute to your overall state of happiness. He recommends introducing small rituals, or “happiness boosters,” into your routine. These rituals help sustain happiness, even during difficult times or periods of transition. Ben-Shahar recommends incorporating these happiness rituals into leisure time, arguing that they’re more fulfilling and energizing than passive activities like watching TV or scrolling on your phone.

Slow Down

According to Ben-Shahar, being happier also requires you to slow down. He introduces the concept of time affluence. Time affluence refers to the sensation of having ample time to engage in personally meaningful activities, leisure, and reflection. In contrast, time poverty describes the stressful state of feeling constantly rushed, overworked, or falling behind. Drawing on psychological research, Ben-Shahar points out that time affluence is a better predictor of well-being than material affluence. 

Ben-Shahar highlights the widespread issue of time poverty in our culture, suggesting that by reducing the pace of our lives, we can cultivate time affluence and thereby increase our overall happiness.

Believe You Deserve Happiness

Finally, Ben-Shahar argues that to be happy, you must believe that you deserve to be happy. He argues that recognizing and affirming your right to happiness is a crucial step in the pursuit of a joyful and fulfilling life

Ben-Shahar says pursuing personal happiness can feel uncomfortable when we’re socialized to focus on more material achievements, even though they may not provide real satisfaction. Also, our own fears and self-doubts get in the way, making the pursuit of happiness even harder. There’s also a misleading idea that happiness is a limited resource—that if you’re happy, it somehow takes away from others—which causes needless guilt. 

How Happiness Will Change the World

Ben-Shahar argues that in addition to changing your life, the pursuit of happiness also has the power to reshape society. He argues that a collective focus on increasing personal happiness can significantly contribute to a healthier, more harmonious, and happier world. According to Ben-Shahar, the world needs a paradigm shift that reframes happiness as the highest good, as opposed to material wealth or other external measures of success and well-being.

Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar: Book Overview and Takeaways

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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