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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

The Happiness Continuum: Happy, Happier, Happiest

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC, MHC-LP

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

Happiness is a continuum; a spectrum of emotions, that encompass a range from tranquil contentment to boundless euphoria. As we traverse the path of self-awareness, we encounter three existential terms: expanded, centered, and constricted, each representing a distinct point on the Happiness Continuum.

At the pinnacle lies "expanded," where happiness blossoms into feelings of ecstasy and elation, lifting us to extraordinary heights of joy. The midpoint, "centered," brings us a sense of contentment and delight. At the lowest point, "constricted," happiness remains untroubled, gently reassuring us with its subtle presence.

As we navigate this ever-changing continuum, we embrace the depth and diversity of happiness that shapes our emotional landscape.

The words along this continuum are all synonymous with "happy," yet each carries a distinct meaning. When we envision an ecstatic or elated person, images of exuberance and euphoria come to mind. On the other hand, "pleased" and "untroubled" evoke a sense of contentment and ease. These varied emotions are all interconnected within the realm of the Happiness Continuum, offering a kaleidoscope of experiences.

To me, individuals who find themselves in the "pleased" or "untroubled" section may be content with their lives, embracing the status quo without a pressing need for change. Yet, residing in the constriction of this continuum might suggest living a passive existence, lacking a sense of passion or deep connection. While the status quo may be acceptable, it raises the question of whether it truly fulfills an individual's authentic self and leads to lasting happiness.

Let us acknowledge that being pleased and untroubled does not imply inadequacy or error; for some, these states may resonate well, and they thrive within their contentment. The crux lies in recognizing what aligns with one's true essence.

A person who feels pleased or untroubled may approach life with a sense of acceptance, finding contentment in the present without an urgent need for grand changes. On the contrary, someone who perceives life through an ecstatic lens embraces exhilaration and unbridled joy, seeking moments of elation and jubilation. The difference lies in their outlook and emotional experiences, each contributing uniquely to their understanding of happiness.

Ultimately, it is essential to honor individual preferences and perspectives on happiness. The key is to discern what resonates with our core being and leads to genuine fulfillment. Each journey along the Happiness Continuum is valid and offers a tapestry of experiences that shape our perception of happiness and the essence of our lives.

Happiness & Self-Awareness: Unraveling the Connection

The quest for happiness often revolves around the belief that self-awareness holds the key to unlocking life's meaning and contentment. But is this notion truly valid? Practitioners of mindfulness and emotion regulation often find themselves immersed in feelings of contentment, delight, and a sense of fulfillment.

Yet, the journey of happiness does not end there. Beyond contentment lies a realm of ecstasy and elation. Ecstasy, when grounded in high self-awareness, imparts problem-solving skills, sound judgment, and a resolute forward momentum in life. Motivated and willing to embrace positive risks, individuals with ecstasy at their core seize opportunities and exude a growth mindset.

In contrast, those dwelling on the side of mere contentment may view opportunities as potential disruptors of their equilibrium, rendering them unwilling to pursue paths that could amplify their happiness.

The true aim is to journey along the continuum, avoiding stagnation on either side, which might hinder self-awareness over time.

Personally, I find that pushing beyond my comfort zone brings a sense of elation. For instance, when I motivate myself to cook an elaborate meal instead of sticking to the usual fare, the feeling of triumph is exhilarating. This leads me to believe that ecstasy arises from the energy invested in a situation. To me, happiness lies in the warmth of a blanket, the cuddles with a puppy, the aroma of apple pie, or a sunlit day—tangible elements that anchor the abstract concept of happiness. Once we define and embrace this feeling, can we truly hold onto it, believing we deserve such joy? Or does this privilege solely belong to individuals with intact self-esteem and self-efficacy?

Indeed, self-esteem and self-efficacy are intrinsically intertwined with happiness. A sense of self-esteem and efficacy empowers individuals to experience happiness more readily, embracing it as their rightful companion on life's journey. Through genuine self-belief and confidence, they pave the way for deeper and more enduring happiness.

Thus, the connection between self-awareness, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and happiness forms a tapestry of intricate interplay. Embracing self-awareness enables us to unlock the door to ecstasy and happiness, while fostering self-esteem and self-efficacy ensures that we can bask in the joy we genuinely deserve.

Activity: Aligning Behavior with Values for a Happier Life

Take a moment to explore the alignment between your behavior and your values, using the Happiness Continuum as a guide. Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

1. Where do I currently stand on the Happiness Continuum?

2. Can shifting my approach to life and decision-making lead me closer to experiencing elation and greater happiness?

3. Am I content with merely feeling pleased?

Once these questions are answered in an honest way, consider how your behavior and values are impacting your happiness. Start by asking yourself the following question: What do I value?

With honesty as your compass, consider how your behavior and values influence your overall happiness. Start by identifying and rating (not ranking) your Personal Values on a scale of 1-10, using one color pen. Mindfulness and meditative techniques can aid you in understanding and acknowledging your priorities realistically.

Personal Values

  • Family (other than marriage and parenting)

  • Intimate relationships (partners, marriage)

  • Parenting

  • Work

  • Friends/Social life

  • Education/Training

  • Recreation/Fun

  • Spirituality growth/Mindfulness

  • Citizenship/Community life

  • Physical self-care

Next, reflect on the decisions you made in the past week and answer the following questions:

  • Were you able to prioritize everything you rated a 10?

  • What influenced those choices, and how did they impact your happiness and your position on the Happiness Continuum?

Using a different color pen, rank each Personal Value based on your decisions and actions from the past week. Is there a discrepancy between your stated values and your actual behavior?

Closing this gap will nurture a sense of increased self-esteem and happiness as you begin living a life that aligns with your core values without compromise. Strive for balance, recognizing that areas of life you value need to reflect the level of happiness you seek. Prioritize those values that truly matter to you, even if it means reevaluating other aspects that may not hold the same importance.

For example, if family holds high value, ensure that your consistent actions reflect its significance. If mindfulness and spiritual growth are key, make meditation a priority in your daily routine. If self-care is rated low, explore activities that promote better well-being throughout your day.

Living life in meaningful alignment with your values naturally steers your behaviors toward harmony.

Keep in mind that your values may shift and evolve over time, making this exercise a valuable tool for gaining insight into your journey through life. Embrace the process of self-discovery, as it empowers you to navigate life with authenticity and embrace a fulfilling and happy existence.

How do you want to live your life?


For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.

Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here:


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