Toolkit 101: Measuring your personal happiness

alcohol beliefs happiness happiness score true happiness Jun 22, 2024

Reflecting on the fundamentals of happiness

A few episodes ago, on The Big Drink Rethink podcast, Matt Phelan and I delved into what truly drives happiness in the workplace. Matt, who runs a company dedicated to measuring employee happiness, shared a thought-provoking insight: none of the things that make us truly happy have been invented in the last 1000 years.

Matt highlighted timeless fundamentals such as safety, freedom, acknowledgment, and above all, relationships as the bedrock of happiness. We compared these with established models like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which outlines the basic needs that drive human behaviour.

Maslow’s 'Hierarchy of Needs' simplified:

  • Physiological Needs: Basic survival needs like hunger, thirst, warmth, and rest.
  • Safety Needs: Feeling secure and safe from danger.
  • Social Needs: Seeking love, acceptance, and belonging.
  • Esteem Needs: Desiring respect, recognition, and self-esteem.
  • Self-Actualization: Achieving one’s full potential and personal growth.

The link between alcohol and happiness

Despite these fundamentals, many of us believe that alcohol is a key to happiness. This belief often surfaces during my coaching sessions. When asked why they drink, many respond, "It makes me happy." But does it really?

Why are we so quick to link alcohol to happiness?

  1. Social Integration: Alcohol is deeply embedded in our social lives. If we always drink when socialising, we begin to associate happiness with drinking.
  2. Marketing Influence: Advertisements and media portray alcohol as a source of joy and fulfilment, reinforcing this belief.
  3. Personal Memories: Significant life events often involve alcohol, making it seem integral to happy moments.

The reality of alcohol-induced happiness

While alcohol can make us feel happier in the moment, it often leads to more negative feelings as its effects wear off. The numbing effect of alcohol can be confused with true happiness, but the absence of negative feelings does not equate to the presence of positive ones.

Challenging the perception

Let’s challenge this perspective. Think about what happiness means to you. Reflect on your happiest moments. Have they always involved alcohol? For many of us, childhood happiness was simple and innocent, devoid of alcohol.

The misconception of alcohol and fun

As we grow older, social activities often revolve around alcohol, leading us to equate drinking with fun. However, when we spend so much time drinking, we neglect other sources of happiness. Drinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, central to our activities.  Well how about  fresh perspective? Maybe it's time to consider that it’s the act of getting together with friends, not the alcohol, that makes us happy. Humans are social creatures; our joy comes from connections. To illustrate this, try drinking the same amount of alcohol alone in your kitchen as you would with friends. Without their company, without the chatter, the music and the sense of togetherness. The experience will likely be different and less enjoyable.

The downside of drinking

Drinking might make us feel good temporarily, but it can also lead to anxiety, stress, and regret. Advertisements don’t show the negative aftermath of drinking: the middle-of-the-night anxiety, arguments, accidents, or the impact on children. 


Evaluating alcohol’s role in your life

To understand alcohol’s true impact on your happiness, we can use a tool inspired by Barbara Fredrickson’s work on positive emotions. This exercise will help you quantify your happiness and see how alcohol affects it:

The Ten Positive Emotions of Happiness

  1. Joy: Experiencing pleasure and fulfilment.
  2. Gratitude: Appreciating what you have.
  3. Serenity: Feeling inner calm.
  4. Interest: Being curious about life.
  5. Hope: Having confidence in the future.
  6. Pride: Feeling valuable and accomplished.
  7. Amusement: Finding humour and light-heartedness.
  8. Inspiration: Feeling motivated and passionate.
  9. Awe: Experiencing reverence and wonder.
  10. Love: Connecting deeply with others.

The Happiness Score tool

Grab a pen and a piece of paper. First give each of the above emotions a score 'out of 10' for the degree to which you experience it in your life (with 1 being 'not at all' and 10 being 'in abundance').  Then, on the sheet of paper, create two columns. In the left column, list how alcohol contributes to each of these emotions. In the right column, list how alcohol detracts from them. 

Reflecting on your happiness

After completing the exercise, add up your scores to get a total happiness score out of 100. And then look at your written reflections to gain a clear picture of what you gain from alcohol versus what it takes away.

Conclusion: rediscovering authentic happiness

Reflect on these insights and consider if alcohol is truly enhancing your happiness or merely providing fleeting pleasure. True happiness comes from within and is not dependent on external substances. By understanding and embracing this, you can find more authentic and lasting joy in your life

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