Why ‘party animals’ often end up chronically unhappy

I have a buddy who is a party animal. He is smart, energetic, funny and constantly surrounded by people. He parties longer and harder than anyone I have ever met. In fact, he parties so much that, in the eyes of most, his life is one, long, crazy party. Most people who meet him are instantly filled with envy. They gravitate towards him as if he is some sort of party demigod, a pseudo celebrity with a life worthy of the jealousy it elicits in others. He never pays for his drinks, never waits in line, never has to introduce himself and never has to work to impress women. If you made his life into a story the reviews would probably read, ‘a terrifyingly exciting whirlwind of action packed madness.’ But what if I told you that his life is so exciting, it puts him at risk of chronic unhappiness.

According to the World Happiness Report 2013, the term happiness is commonly used in two very distinctive ways. The first is to describe a combination of positive emotions felt at a specific moment in time (ie. ‘Were you happy yesterday?’). The second is as an evaluation of ones life satisfaction, which is not moment specific (ie. ‘Are you happy with how things are going in your life?’). These two ways of looking at happiness are vastly different and this is the root of why party animals often end up chronically unhappy.

The first way people use the term ‘happy’ actually describes pleasure – transient emotions which only feel good while you’re doing whatever it is that is pleasurable. As soon as it’s all over, the ‘happy’ feelings leave. If you manage to string enough moments of pleasure together in a short period of time, they can look and feel a lot like happiness. This is what party animals do. They build lives based on pursuing pleasure, on finding constant sources of validation from others. They have very active social media accounts, they seem to know everyone everywhere, they have a running tally of favours owed to them and they generally care about things like status.

So, how is happiness different from pleasure? According to researcher Martin Seligmann, happiness requires a ‘rich repertoire of friends’ and a ‘strong baseline of life satisfaction’.

First to the issue of friends. Unfortunately my buddy doesn’t really have any. He may be surrounded by an army of loyal acquaintances but he doesn’t have what I would consider a true friend, not even one. He may bond with his buddies over a mutual love of music and partying, but they never really connect on a deeper level. I doubt if any of them really know who he is as a person, just as he probably doesn’t know who they are as people. They don’t know his dreams, his fears, his insecurities or his inner most thoughts. This lack of connection is a basic human need and when it goes unfulfilled, it leaves you chronically unhappy. Therein lies the irony.

Managing the number of acquaintances required to allow constant pleasure takes so much time and effort that it leaves no time to manage the friendships required to be happy.

So how many friends do you need to be happy?

Obviously the answer to this questions is highly variable and difficult to answer – dependent on the individual, the circumstances, their culture etc. But regardless, it’s probably lower than what you are thinking. For the average person the number is most likely to fall somewhere between 1 and 5. This number is relatively low because quality and quantity of friendship have an inverse relationship. Maintaining meaningful friendships takes more time and more effort than managing acquaintances, thus you simply can’t have as many. And, whats more, there are specific skills in building a friendship.

These skills are just one of the things we cover in our eBook The No-Bull Pathway to Happiness. To learn more about what science, psychology and philosophy has to say about happiness, pop in your email below and we’ll send you the PDF eBook right now, for FREE!

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