Human Doing, Being, and Becoming: How Do You Find Happiness?

6 min read
Helena Lopes/Unsplash

Helena Lopes/Unsplash

When asked to describe yourself, what comes to mind? You might think of your interests, such as gardening or playing golf. Said another way, you might think of the things you do. You might also think of your personality traits, such as having integrity, and your roles, such as being a parent or a cashier. These are about your being in the world. Or, you might think of your aspirations, such as to become a great doctor or influencer. This self-perception is based on who you are working toward becoming. Each of these three ways of thinking about yourself offers its own path to happiness.

Human Doing

Some would say that historian and author Will Durant was channeling Aristotle when, in his book The Story of Philosophy, he penned the now-famous quote: “You are what you repeatedly do.”

To this point, if you regularly eat well-balanced meals, exercise, talk with friends, and pursue your interests, you will feel stronger and healthier. You will also be more likely to act in other healthy ways, which is likely not news to you. On the other hand, trying to simultaneously do all things that make you happy by multitasking, or cramming them all into every day, is seriously problematic. Unfortunately, this attempt at overachieving is all too common in our modern world.

With your cellphone as practically another appendage, multitasking is almost inevitable and inherently involves being frequently interrupted. Researcher Kushlev and colleagues (2016) found that mobile phone notifications increase inattention and hyperactivity even in people who do not have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Similarly, researchers Lin and colleagues (2013) found that interruptions cause distress and create greater demands on self-regulation (such as containing frustration).

Depending on how you manage your multitasking, you may find that you are someone who calmly accomplishes what you set out to do, or someone who is frequently stressed out, anxious, and exhausted. From the perspective of “you are what you repeatedly do,” a key lesson from these and other similar studies is that you help yourself be a calmer, more focused person by limiting multitasking.

So, as you reflect on your priorities, it is also important to consider that your happiness is partly determined by what you choose to pursue and how you go about doing that.

Human Being

Some people define themselves by their inner experiences at any given moment. They might focus on their thoughts, as Descartes did in his famous statement, “I think therefore I am.” I have heard some counter with “I am, therefore I think.” Interesting turn of the phrase, right? Of course, you might also understand yourself by connecting with your fears, fantasies, and other emotional experiences. What these different perspectives have in common is a focus on your inner life. You could say that as a human being, we are what we experience.

In my clinical practice, I have seen many, many people struggle with their inner world. The truth is that it is relatively rare for people to simply perceive their experiences. Instead, they view them from a particular perspective. For example, someone who hates parties can view themselves positively as someone who likes being social but does not like a lot of hullabaloo. Or, they might be critical of their aversion to festivities that many others clearly enjoy.

So, to find happiness in your human being, it is important to develop compassionate self-awareness; to see yourself with empathy and compassion. With this skill, you can be open to all of your experiences in a way that enables you to appreciate and respect them—even the difficult ones.

Human Becoming

As a living being who is ever-changing, it is important to reflect on how you respond to this trait. Do you ignore change—as in, your stated age remains stuck at 29? Do you try to fight it? (You can get plenty of help for this from anti-aging industries.) You might try to become what others want you to be. Or, maybe you try to become more of what you want to be. So many choices. And there is still more to consider, such as whether your values or desires have changed.

The work of psychologist Carol Dweck is particularly important in considering the idea of human becoming. She is known for her concept of the growth mindset, which asserts that people can cultivate their qualities and grow even through challenging times. So, if you want to embody a certain way of being or achieve particular goals, then her work suggests that you think of yourself as existing on a learning curve instead of judging yourself to have or not have an ability. This enables you to be more persistent and more likely to succeed in your efforts.

The growth mindset involves being aware of your current experience and what growth you want. It also inherently encourages people to have compassionate self-awareness as they struggle. That is, when you make mistakes or recognize personal weaknesses, you will continue to feel positively about yourself, even as you might strive to do better. For instance, if you practice calming your anxiety with mindfulness, you will likely acknowledge small successes along the way, rather than being critical of your limited abilities and then giving up. As I explain in this three-minute video, Learn to Become Your Best Self, the focus of the growth mindset is on growth, or becoming.

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Three Paths to a Happy You

In your pursuit of happiness, be sure to reflect on these three ways of thinking about yourself. Human being and human doing complement each other. If you are all about doing and not being, you may feel empty or lonely in quiet moments… assuming you allow yourself to slow down enough to have them. If you are all about being and not doing, you are not feeding your inner self with new experiences. That may leave you wanting, too. Then there is the shortcoming for both of them that they fail to attend to your ever-changing nature. By adding a focus on the dimension of always becoming, you can enhance your personal growth. Together, by attending to yourself as a human doing, human being, and human becoming, you have an amazing formula for success.

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