Happiness or impulse fulfilment?

Dear Integral Meditators,

In this day and age when so many of our impulses can be fulfilled at the click of a button or browser, managing your impulses mindfully is an increasingly important life skill. The article below looks at how we can distinguish between impulse fulfilment and actions that lead to genuine happiness.

In the spirit of attention to impulses!


Engaged Mindfulness – What mindfulness is and how we can apply it to our daily lives
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Happiness or impulse fulfilment?

When you do something are you doing it because it is really going to make you happy? Or are you doing it simply out of impulse and habit? This is an important question to ask yourself, because having the impulse to do something doesn’t mean that that action will result in fulfilment, wellbeing or happiness.

Defining happiness
For our purposes right now, let’s say happiness has two types; goal oriented happiness and non-goal oriented happiness. These two are interrelated but:

  • Goal oriented happiness is functional. We derive it from actions which lead to achievements. For example, if I keep my attention focused on my work and writing this morning, I will get to lunch and experience the happiness and satisfaction of having achieved my work goals. Goal oriented happiness may involve discomfort, sacrifice and the setting aside of short term impulse fulfilment to achieve, and this is very important to understand!
  • Non-goal oriented happiness is our capacity to rest at ease in the moment, feeling good not because we have achieved something, but because we are in touch with life as we experience it in the moment, on a slightly deeper level. This can be prompted consciously through mindfulness meditation, or it may come upon us when walking or running, listening to music, being with a loved one and so on…

The defining factor of both types of happiness is that they make us feel good in a real and appropriate way.

The deception of impulse fulfilment
Deceptive impulses are ones that prompt us to do something that we think will make us happy, but in reality lead neither to goal oriented happiness or non-goal oriented happiness. Rather they lead to more discontent, insecurity, anxiety and so on. Two examples:

  • I wake up in the morning. I’ve got work to do, but I’m tired, so I switch on my phone and surf the online paper for a while. The impulse to do this is an avoidance tactic to delay the effort of starting work. While I read the news I’m not feeling great because deep down I know I’m avoiding what I need to do. When I finish reading, I don’t feel happy, I’ve dissipated my (already finite) energy, and I haven’t gotten closer to my work goals, and thus am farther away from my goal-oriented happiness. So the impulse to surf my phone promised me happiness, but it didn’t deliver – it was merely an impulse that took me further away from what I want.
  •  I have had just the right amount to drink at a party, but I have the impulse to take another (and perhaps another!) This does not lead me to be any happier ‘in the moment’, and later in the evening/next morning I might even feel substantially worse! So the impulse fulfilment did not lead to happiness in the goal-oriented or non-goal oriented sense of the word. The impulse actually took me away from my happiness.

The practice  
So the mindfulness practice here is simply to challenge ourself when we notice certain impulses within ourself by asking the question ‘Will this action lead to happiness for me, or is it just impulse fulfilment?’ By asking this question we activate our wise intelligence and willpower to make better choices that will serve our happiness in the long term, and not just erode our wellbeing by pandering to our deceptive impulse fulfilment!
In this day and age when so many of our impulses can be fulfilled at the click of a button or browser, managing your impulses mindfully is an increasingly important life skill.

© Toby Ouvry 2016, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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