Someone recently pointed out that I lead a pretty boring life. After asking for my favourite moment of the past year, I described being elbow-deep in homemade compost, picking out some juicy worms to prepare for my next batch of kitchen leftovers. The subsequent eye-roll and ‘to each their own’-mumble reminded me I probably needed to find a more glamorous hobby. It wasn’t a ‘rockstar’ moment.
But it also highlighted that when we’re asked to describe our most joyful experiences, most people instinctively feel the need to scan their memories for moments of pure ecstasy. Like that time when we watched the sunrise on Machu Pichu, or when we were lucky enough to see the polar lights on a trip in the Arctic, or that day we had a foursome in a tipi at Burning Man. While most of these are sadly still on my bucket list, I’d classify them as ‘rockstar’ moments, rather than joyful experiences.
And a life filled with rockstar moments alone is bound to lead to intensity addiction – meaninglessly living from one thrill to the next.
But if ecstasy-loaded activities on their own don’t lead to a happy life, then what does?
What Makes People Feel Joyful?
Back in the seventies, when pagers were still a thing, one of the godfathers of positive psychology – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – decided to conduct a large-scale experiment. He wanted to find out which life experiences were most likely to lead to happiness.