Healthy vs. Unhealthy Happiness

Jan 6 / Drs. Bryan & Julie Walsh

If you want to find out what people think happiness is, just take a look at social media. People post pictures of their vacation, the delicious food they are eating, their new house, moving to a new exotic location, and of course selfies (so many selfies).

It turns out there are a lot of problems with this. 
Firstly, there are many types of happiness, and therefore ways of pursuing happiness. One way, called hedonic happiness, means being happy about things we can acquire or consume. Going on vacation, eating a good meal, buying ourselves a new pair of shoes, moving somewhere new, getting married – we're acquiring something new in our lives that we didn’t have before.

This type of happiness always wears off. It might wear off quickly like a recent meal, or it may take a couple of years to wear off, like a new home or a new car, but this hedonic happiness always wears off, at least a little, and we are left to find new things to make us happy.

This is sometimes referred to as the “hedonic treadmill”.
The biggest problem with this type of happiness is what it does to our health so it's important to clearly define the difference.
Hedonic happiness – the laughing, cheerful, pleasure-filled kind – has no business being paired with “health” because it isn’t a healthy type of happiness.   

Sure, you may seem happy sitting on the beach during vacation or eating a delicious meal, but is it really happiness? Or is it more pleasure, enjoyment, or even entertainment? (Hint: It’s the latter.)

There’s another type of happiness that comes from doing something meaningful because it is for a greater cause or a bigger picture. Below is an interview clip with Dr. Steven Cole, a pioneer in social genomics whose work in this area has generated a brand new understanding of how and why some people are healthier than others, despite outward appearances. Through his research, he has found that that this type of happiness – eudaimonic happiness – benefits our overall health and well-being whereas hedonic happiness does the opposite. Check it out. 

This is one of hundreds of hours of content available to you inside Clinician's Code.

Dr. Cole's work is fascinating and builds upon earlier works, like the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who said that the pursuit of some types of happiness was vulgar and not worth pursuing because it was actually pleasure people were after and therefore did not result in wellness. (Of course, he didn’t have access to genomic testing, so he couldn’t prove it the way Dr. Cole could.)
Instead, Aristotle encouraged eudaimonic happiness because it leads to better overall wellness through fulfillment, meaning, and activity expressing virtue, as he put it.  
Vacations, good food, and new material items are fine, but they don’t lead to lasting happiness and, according to Dr. Cole’s research, make us less able to fight off infections and more prone to chronic disease.  
So, as you set goals and intentions for your best year yet, take inventory of your plans and be sure to prioritize eudaimonic over hedonic ways of pursuing happiness. 


"This is incredible information Dr Walsh."


"Another outstanding presentation...
Thank you!"


You ground me from all the FM Hype out there, which is mostly messy, biased, and FOMO driven. Please keep doing what you're doing. Your work is benefiting so many patients around the globe. Truly blessed to be amongst your students. Much love ❤️