The Four Levels of Happiness

The Four Levels of Happiness

What the heck is happiness? I mean, isn’t that just some silly little flip thing? Who has time to be happy anyway? I have supper to get on the table. I have emails to answer. I have homework to monitor.

Who has the TIME to think about something as frivolous as happiness?

That was how I used to think about the concept of happiness. I mean, nice and all, but I have a family to run here.

Then I heard Fr. Robert Spitzer talk about “The Four Levels of Happiness.” Using years of research from just about every branch of psychology, he taught me why happiness is vital to us as human beings.

Everything out of his mouth made sense to me.

As I kept thinking about his teaching, I applied it to my life.

And just like that, my perspective on HAPPINESS changed.

The Four Levels of Happiness

The BEST PART? I have taught this to my children and then bribed them to teach it back to me. (You KNOW you’ve learned something if you can teach it.)

Thus began a Deeper Sense of Living in Our Home. SERIOUSLY. Once we understood the levels of happiness, we could make a CHOICE about where to live. And that CHOICE is a game-changer.

Let’s get to it:


Level one: Immediate Gratification.

This is the most basic level of happiness and it happens without any thought or learning on our part. This is about something EXTERNAL coming into our PHYSICAL presence. The effects are immediate and they are intense. We just enjoy. There are one trillion examples of this: my double shot Starbucks expresso and milk on ice, a Chipotle bowl, a dip in a swimming pool on a hot day, a cold beer. The pleasure is NOW. However, it is short-lived. The pleasure only lasts while we are engaging or enjoying it.

It is also superficial; we don’t have to think on this level, we just accept the pleasure. This level doesn’t extend past us in any meaningful way.

It is all about immediate self-gratification.

Level two: Personal Achievement or Ego Gratification

This is the realm of personal ACHIEVEMENT. We live on this level when we do something great and people praise us. We are happy here because we are seen as a little bit better than everyone else. We work a little harder, go the extra mile for our students and we win the title of The Favorite Teacher. We train hard and we win the 5K for our age bracket. We are a “Go Getter” and we do well in business.

Level 2 happiness is short-term and truthfully, it is hard to hang onto. Winning today doesn’t mean we’ll win next time. So there is anxiety. Of course, Level 2 happiness is not bad; we NEED to work to become better. But when this level of happiness becomes our ONLY FOCUS, then it leads to incredible levels of competition and jealousy. We fear failure.


Level three: Good Beyond Yourself

This is where we realize that we are built to make a real difference. We are built for something beyond us. We are more than our ego; we’re alive to make a difference to someone beyond ourselves. We realize that we truly care about and for others!

The focus shifts from the inner world of ME to the outer world of US. We ask ourselves: How do I use the intelligence I have to make as great a difference as I can to my family, friends…to the Kingdom of God, to society, our culture?

It’s not about having more; it’s about using what I have to make a difference.

Level three has a different focal point. We try to optimize the difference we can make in the world. We want it better because we have lived.

Level four: Transcendence: GOD

We were not made “just to love.” We want eternal, unconditional, perfect love. Each and every one of us WANTS the perfect body. We WANT the perfect relationship. We WANT the perfect life. Where did we learn to not only love but to want PERFECT, unconditional love? We divorce our spouses because they don’t love us like we want to be loved. We are looking for unconditional love and NO HUMAN BEING CAN GIVE IT

Why do we want it so badly? Because we are TRANSCENDENT BEINGS and we desire perfect beauty. We want and need the happiness that can come from GOD ALONE.

We CAN have a taste of Level Four Happiness on this earth as we submit ourselves to living in God’s Will. We can have a taste of it when we pray.


If you look at each level, they are all good to some extent. Every level is in each one of us. The question becomes, Which one will dominate in you, for the people around you and in your family?

How does this apply to me? That’s a great question. And I have a great answer for you. Stay tuned.

The concept of “The Four Levels of Happiness” was used with permission by The Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Lori Doerneman

Lori Doerneman

I love my marriage consummated and my Jesus consecrated. I also love seeing the eternal in the ordinary tasks of every day life. That's why I write.
Lori Doerneman

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