Short Term vs. Long Term Happiness & Why You Need to Know the Difference

The study of happiness has grown radically in the last few years. Even Harvard University offers a “Positive Psychology” class focusing on what it takes to be really, truly happy. Guess what? It’s Harvard’s most popular class.

With this increase in interest, comes an increase in research.

Studies are discovering that there are two distinct breeds of happiness.

Short-Term Happiness:

Short-term happiness is a quick fix. It’s the slice of pizza, the glass of wine, the weekend trip away, the new outfit etc. It’s what you believe will bring you instant happiness in the shortest amount of time.

Long-Term Happiness:

Long-term happiness is a goal, a dream, a vision. It’s the journey to lose weight, the business plan, the 9 months of pregnancy or even the journey to conception. Not necessarily as instantly enjoyable as the oh-so-sexy short-term version, as you may need to wait months or even years to reach peak satisfaction.

Which One is More Important?

Through many fields of research, there have been many findings that the fulfillment and meaning woven into long-term happiness are what creates better physical and mental health. Sure, you don’t get as much instant day-to-day satisfaction out of something like medical school or volunteering, but you do achieve a greater sense of fulfillment as a human being.


I can’t help but see (very clearly) the importance of both kinds of happiness. And I was pleased to discover the Harvard’s “Positive Psychology” class research can back me up on that.

Now let’s get this straight. There are definitely two adverse extremes of these positions:

Extreme Short-Termers - Those who are constantly chasing that quick fix and are unable to make any sacrifices for the sake of a long-term goal. These are the ones wondering why the happiness felt at that weekend getaway didn’t last longer than Monday morning.

Extreme Long-Termers – Those who choose not to enjoy themselves in the simple gifts of life and usually decide to “save it” for the future. But when push comes to shove and the time is right to finally enjoy life, do they even know how?

The point of me writing this post is to simply bring awareness to these actually really different kinds of happiness.

Do you lean more towards one side than the other? Is there room to create more balance amongst your short and long-term happiness?

Perhaps you are a short-termer having trouble understanding why you are not happy in life, even though your life looks amazing on paper with your rock star husband, your new vacation home, and your 12 children. If that’s the case, (Although my example may seem slightly overexaggerated) then maybe it’s time to be step up and be a part of something bigger than your self.

Or maybe you’re a long-termer yearning for that moment when you will finally allow yourself to eat a McDonalds french fry. If this is the case, it’s your time to cease the day (Yes, I said TODAY!) and do exactly what YOU want to do, see or be.

Just the awareness of the unhappiness net you can get caught in, is enough to make a change in your life.

Happiness is a journey, not a destination. To deliver both present and future gains, happiness must include both pleasure and meaning. Find your balance and go for it!

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