Four Levels of Happiness – Aristotle and REBT
National Feel Good Day is launching on 19 July 2013 across the UK, where the entire nation is being called upon to dedicate time to paying compliments to friends, family and strangers alike and to celebrate feeling good. Doing something for the benefit of another is one way to help your feel happier.
The Greek Philosopher Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) wrote that people strive for happiness and that happiness was the only thing that man seeks for its own sake. Everything we strive for was for the purpose of happiness. He said there are four levels of happiness. This blog briefly looks at these four levels and explains the REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) philosophy and view point in each. REBT is one of the most influential schools of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and the one that underpins the teachings at The College of Cognitive Behaviour Therapies.
Aristotle said that the Level 1 happiness is felt when we get instant gratification. This is feelings based, doing the things that feel instantly good. Examples of instant gratification include: enjoying a good meal, sexual gratification, buying something we want, watching something we love like Tennis, Football or a Film, and so on. He said that this type of happiness is short lived. He also said it is unhealthy if one only pursues this type of happiness.
This is similar to the REBT concepts of demanding beliefs where a person holds a core belief ‘I must feel immediately happy and therefore must do the things that provoke instant gratification’. Obviously, wanting instant gratification is fine but insisting that you must have it becomes unhealthy because the demand must always be fulfilled in order to be happy at Level 1. It can’t always be fulfilled.
Aristotle said another way to feel happy is to strive for ‘ego’ gratification. This is Level 2 happiness. Examples of achieving Level 2 happiness include: being the best in the class, best looking, wealthiest, most liked, admired or respected, being the most powerful. Again, there is nothing wrong with wanting these things provided you pursue them in healthy and balanced way. Aristotle said such pursuits become unhealthy if you only pursue this type of happiness. In REBT we say pursue your ‘enlightened self interest’, meaning do not demand it and do not define your worth by it. It’s healthy to want to be the best but it doesn’t mean that it MUST be so.
Level 3 – National Feel Good Day
Another way to help your feel happy is to do things for the benefit of others. This is Level 3 happiness and it is about moving away from doing things just for your and doing something for someone else. Examples of Level 3 happiness include: commitment, giving, loyalty, care, concern, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion and above all self-sacrifice. This is a good thing to do and National Feel Good Day is about recognising this and doing it. You know that you feel good when you receive a gift and also when you give a gift. Receiving a gift is out of your control because it depends on someone else. Giving a gift is within your control and it also provokes happiness.
Aristotle also recognised that this can be unhealthy you if this becomes your only way of making yourself happy. In REBT we say that if you demand this of yourself, put yourself down when you don’t always put others first then you will experience emotional problems. REBT says give love, you are in control of giving love to a project, to a hobby, people, society, animals but do not demand that it always has to be this way and do not define yourself as worthless if you don’t always give love.
Aristotle said that Level 4 happiness acknowledges that we all desire certain things and we all want life and other people to be a certain way you but there is acceptance of truth. The truth that we are all imperfect human beings and that life is not always perfect. Such a person enjoys a great inner peace because he or she no longer needs to be perfect and no longer needs others to be perfect. This is idea is at the heart of REBT philosophy of healthy beliefs. REBT says give up the demands. Accept that you have desires and wants but that you do not need. Accept yourself as imperfect, accept others are imperfect and accept that life is also imperfect at times.
So, be balanced and do Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 happiness but if you strive for the philosophic Level 4 happiness you will feel better and happier. Mix it up and for this week let’s all go for Level 3 happiness and do something nice for someone else.