The happiness equation: stop trying to be happy
It seems that the world has become obsessed with chasing happiness. Surprisingly, the yet to be solved, happiness equation has been plaguing the planet for centuries.
Aristotle, the forefather of western philosophy, often wrestled with the question, “What will it take to make me happy?”
In his thoughts on Eudamics, he felt that “living well may bring us more long-term satisfaction than making happiness (or pleasure) the goal.”
2300 years of human development and we still can’t answer that fucking question!
The pressure to “BE HAPPY RIGHT NOW” is immense. Life coaches are growing rich by selling the nebulous pursuit of happiness.
But is it possible?
When we set ourselves high standards for happiness the more disappointed we’ll be when that standard isn’t met. A happiness scorecard isn't going to change that.
“A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest.” - Albert Einstein
We’re not big on assumptions here at Pilotfish. The science of mental health is in our foundations. Let’s dig into why happiness is the wrong goal to chase.
And now, the science part
The first time we experience crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City will always be the last time we experience it for the first time. Every new visit becomes a little more familiar than the last.
This psychological factor, called hedonic adaptation, is one of the more irritating quirks of human psychology, and one scientists' use to describe how we get used to the things that once made us happy.
Lottery winners are rarely happier a year after they won the lottery than they were when they were a starving, poor, normal person. It’s often the case that championship-winning sports teams perform poorly the next season because fame and commercial success replace their desire to for success.
This goes to show how shit people are at predicting what will make them happy.
The pursuit of happiness may be making matters worse
The hippies and travelers, seeking purpose and happiness, who came before us may have been in the minority, but now, driven by the rise of digital nomadism, stoicism, and self-help, the pursuit of happiness has become mainstream.
In theory, the pursuit of happiness is admirable, yet, the reality could be making lives worse. People say “nobody’s perfect” but then spend all their time striving to be the one who is.
The nomads and remote workers I meet often focus on scoring a goal, instead of enjoying it. The pursuit rarely produces happiness because happiness is only found once you meet the goal.
To be in pursuit of happiness means you’re not happy right now. You’re saying “I’m not happy right now, but when I reach my goal, I will be”.
Hedonic adaptation has taught us that we won’t stay happy with the goal for long. We’re training ourselves to put happiness off until we reach the goal or the preconceived idea of happiness.
“When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you'll enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.” - James Clear
Keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals.
Who can we learn from?
In 2006 Jeff Bezos bought a minority, non-controlling stake in DHH & Jason Fried’s project management app Basecamp. The deal made them both multi-millionaires.
In response to his newfound wealth, DHH wrote the day I become a millionaire, to explain the way this experience affected his life.
“I bought a yellow Lamborghini! While all very nice, very wonderful, it didn’t, as we say, really move the needle of deep satisfaction,” he said. “What kept moving the needle, though, was programming Ruby, building Basecamp, writing for Signal v Noise, taking pictures, and enjoying all the same avenues of learning and entertainment my already privileged lifestyle had afforded me for years in advance”.
What I learn from this is to expect nothing, but to continue turning up everyday to do the things that I enjoy.
There’s an equation for that...
The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything - Neil Pasricha