As you have learned over the last year or so, I love to cook. Chances are, if I am home and am not working, I am either preparing food, reading a cookbook or food blog, or watching the “Food Network” (or all three). I get so much happiness out of putting a recipe together and preparing a tasty, new meal, and this happiness comes in many forms. Of course, I get enjoyment out of feasting on all of the tasty food that I make, as I love to eat, but the pleasure I get from cooking goes far beyond that. The mental process of learning how to create and manipulate flavors fascinates me, and this mental “feasting” brings me a whole other type of bliss. I also get a sense of delight from creating a dish and bringing something to life in the kitchen. This act of turning a set of seemingly random ingredients into a delicious meal gives me yet another type of happiness. There is also one other source of joy that my culinary adventures bring me, and this type of happiness is greater than all of the others combined. This form of happiness is what makes me truly love cooking, and it is what will keep me experimenting in the kitchen and playing with flavors for the rest of my life.
Most of the time when I am cooking, I am only making food for myself (and possibly my nurse). While I have a blast doing this, and I get a lot of joy out of my time in the kitchen, cooking for myself is not nearly as fun as preparing a meal for my friends or family. Having others eat and relish in the flavors I put together is the best part of cooking, and it is what brings the most happiness into my life. There are few things I like more than watching someone gleefully savor each and every bite of a meal I created. Watching someone close their eyes as they blissfully take in the tastes and textures dancing on their tastebuds in total contentment (something I like to call “the blissful bite”) brings me more happiness than almost anything else in the world. You would not think that something so external to me, like who is enjoying my food, would play such a large role in determining my level of happiness, but surprisingly it does. Being the introspective person I am, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about this phenomenon and examining these different types of happiness, and these hours of self-reflection have helped me to better understand what happiness is and how it functions in your life.
As much as I would like to take credit for being the first person to realize that the happiness in your life comes in many shapes and sizes, it turns out that this concept has been around for thousands of years. Aristotle is often cited as the first person to present this concept, and numerous other philosophers and theologians have also discussed this idea over the last several centuries. In Aristotle’s depiction of happiness, he identifies four
“levels of happiness,” and as you move up through the levels (i.e. from “level 1” to “level 2”) the intensity, or magnitude, of your happiness increases. The first level is the type of enjoyment you get from material objects and such. In my cooking, this is the type of happiness I get from eating the food I make. The second “level of happiness” comes from the feelings of achievement and accomplishment you get from completing a task or project. For me, this is the joy I feel from creating a great meal and applying my knowledge of flavors. The third “level of happiness” is derived from doing things for others or bettering the world around you. When I cook, this is the amazing feeling of euphoria that I get from watching my friends and family enjoy my food (and take “the blissful bite”). The fourth, and final, type of happiness comes from feeling connected to the universe/a higher power, and it is seen as the ultimate “level of happiness” and is what we should all strive for throughout our lives (Unfortunately, I have not quite gotten to the point where my culinary skills are on a “God-like level” yet, so I do not have a cooking example for you, but I will keep working on it.).
Even though it may have been discovered thousands of years ago, as you can see from my examples above, this notion of happiness coming in multiple forms is just as applicable today as it was then. Not only has this concept stood the test of time, but it can also be applied to nearly every person’s life. Think about your feelings during the Holidays. You get less enjoyment out of receiving a gift (“level 1” happiness) than putting up and fully decorating a gorgeous Christmas tree (“level 2” happiness), and then you get even more happiness than that from giving someone else a gift they really wanted (“level 3” happiness). Depending on your personal beliefs, you could even make the case that you get an even greater level of elation from attending “Midnight Mass” or another seasonal, religious service, which would be the highest “level of happiness” there is. We have all experienced these types of feelings, and you cannot deny that the warm, fuzzy, full-bodied bliss you get from giving the perfect present is much more fulfilling than the enjoyment you get from receiving a gift. As the old saying goes, “It is better to give than to receive.” And thanks to Aristotle, now we know why.
If two, drastically different events, like my feelings during cooking and the joys of Christmastime activities, can be explained by this concept, that is good enough to make me a believer. I am certain that as you think about the things that you enjoy doing, that you will find that these “levels of happiness” are present in your life as well. The activities that bring you the most fulfilling feelings of happiness are the the ones where you get to do something for someone else. Whether it is watching them take “the blissful bite,” seeing them open the perfect, Christmas gift, or some other altruistic activity, the things that bring the most joy to your life are those that allow you to bring happiness to others. As you recognize this mind-blowing fact, you realize that helping others is not only the “right” thing to do because it makes their life better, but also because it creates the greatest type of happiness in yours. Once you fully understand and accept this important lesson, not only will you feel a larger sense of enjoyment in your life, but the world as a whole will be a much happier place.
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