The Four Levels Defined
Happiness derived from material objects and the pleasures they can provide. This is the most basic level of happiness, and it can come from eating fine chocolate, driving a sports car, a cool swim on a hot day, or other forms of physical gratification. Level 1 happiness is good but limited. The pleasure it provides is immediate but short-lived and intermittent. It is also shallow; it requires no reflection, and it doesn’t extend beyond the self in any meaningful way.
Happiness derived from personal achievement and ego gratification. You feel Level 2 happiness when people praise you; when they acknowledge your popularity and authority; when you win in sports or advance in your career. Level 2 happiness is usually comparative because the ego measures success in terms of advantage over others. You’re happy when you’re seen as smarter, more attractive, or more important than others, and you’re unhappy when you lose the comparison game. Level 2 happiness is short-term and tenuous. You can be happy that you won today, and then anxious you might lose tomorrow. Level 2 is not inherently bad because we all need success, self-esteem, and respect to accomplish good things in life. But when Level 2 happiness – self-promotion – becomes your only goal, it leads to self-absorption, jealousy, fear of failure, contempt, isolation, and cynicism.
Happiness derived from doing good for others and making the world a better place. Level 3 happiness is more enduring because it is directed toward the human desire for love, truth, goodness, beauty, and unity. It is capable of inspiring great achievements because it unites people in pursuit of the common good, whereas Level 2 happiness divides people. Level 3 is empathetic, not self-absorbed, and it looks for the good in others, not their flaws. It sees life as an opportunity and an adventure, not an endless series of problems to overcome. Because people have limits, Level 3 happiness also has its limits. None of us are perfect, so we can’t find perfect fulfillment in other people.
Ultimate, perfect happiness. When others fall short of our ideals, or we fall short ourselves, we’re disappointed. This disappointment points to a universal human longing for transcendence and perfection. We don’t merely desire love, truth, goodness, beauty, and unity; we want all of these things in their ultimate, perfect, never-ending form. All people have this desire for ultimacy, which psychologists call a desire for transcendence – a sense of connection to the larger universe. Some express this desire through spirituality and religious faith. Others express the same longing through philosophy, through art, or through scientific efforts to solve the mysteries of life and the universe.