Happiness = Pleasure + Meaning

This definition of happiness came from the first book on positive psychology I ever read. I came upon it nearly 10 years ago in the bookstore at Harvard University. The bright colors of the book drew my attention to the display. The title Happier pulled me in. The tag line “The backbone of the most popular course at Harvard” sold me.

Happier Cover

One of the lessons that has stuck with me 10 years later is Ben-Shahar‘s definition of happiness as the combination of meaning (long-term) and pleasure (short-term).

This definition resonated as it defined happiness as not just some superficial momentary delight but also long-term meaning, commitment, and engagement.

This has helped me tend to the balance of both of these in my life. This definition of happiness helped explain 4 happiness archetypes.

The Nihilist

The archetype has no pleasure in the moment and anticipates no pleasure in the future. This archetype thinks things are no good and expects that they will be no good in the future.

The Rat Racer

This archetype lives their life for the future by always planning, sacrificing, and living for the future. This is full of sacrifice and preparation for future happiness. For these folks, enjoying the present moment can seem indulgent, superficial, or lazy. I often find myself falling into this archetype. Ben-Shahar’s framing has helped give me permission to enjoy the moment and to focus on gratitude for the simple pleasures.

The Hedonist

This archetype lives for the moment. They eat and drink (and perhaps use drugs) to bring about pleasure. They love new relationships because of the honeymoon stage of a relationship when everything is new and exciting. Their focus is on what feels good now and what would be better now.


This person has both long-term meaning and short-term pleasure in their lives.

Which archetype best fits you? Do you need to cultivate more meaning, more pleasure, or both?
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