Daily Archives: September 2, 2010

Some thoughts on why happiness is difficult to achieve and what to do about it

I was reading a post just now that said happiness could be achieved if we
put off the habit of avoiding pain at the same time we seek immediate
gratification. This sounds like a reasonable assertion, but the more I
thought of, the more I thought that isn’t true.

I am more and more convinced that happiness is difficult to achieve because
it is a state of alignment, and alignment is difficult. It is an alignment
of everything we have with everything we want. If our wants are simple,
then happiness can be easier to achieve. For example, if all I want is to
do my job well to be happy and I don’t have any other wants in life that
matter, then as long as I am doing my job well I am happy. However, if I
want to do my job and do something else well, and both things have demands
on my time, then it is going to be harder to be happy. That alignment is
harder to achieve now.

That’s why people are often happy on vacation. They simplify their lives
and line things up so what they are doing makes them happy. However it can
only last for a short time because other demands through off that
alignment.

The other thing that makes happiness difficult to achieve is familiarity or
repetition. I may align my wants with what I have on a short vacation, bu
on a long vacation I may become bored with, say, lying on the beach doing
nothing. The alignment goes away. I may not be unhappy but I am no longer
happy.

Alignment is important, but so is positive emotion towards the thing you
have. The thing you have may seem slight to others. You may be happy
tending your garden, watching sports on TV, or sitting in a cafe chatting
and daydreaming and reading. But the point is that you have a
signifigantly positive emotion towards doing it. You want to do it. And you
are doing it. Then you are happy.

So that’s great, you might grumble, happiness is difficult to achieve.
Thanks for that. So how does one achieve happiness? Well based on two
people I know, I think there are two ways at least to do this: a minimalist
approach and a maximalist approach.

The minimalist approach is to simplify your life to the point that you are
have in your life only the things in your life that you have a strong
positive feeling towards and reject and eliminate everything the detracts
from that. Find a vocation that you love and do that, associate mainly with
people who support and agree with that, and minimalize everything else in
your life. If you can do that, you’ll be happy. I think athletes and
gardeners are two examples of people who live that way, but anyone who is
devoted to a role and gains a lot of positive emotion from it will be
happy.

The other approach is the maximalist approach. With that approach, you try
to find a way to extract a positive emotion from everything you have. You
don’t try to manage what you have in your life: you try to manage how you
thing about what you have in your life. This doesn’t mean you accept things
without question. Rather: you try and see the positive side of what is in
front of you while moving towards what you prefer.

Now you might think both are easier said than done. Both approaches take
will and determination. If you want to see things positively, you need to
work on it. Optimism is like a muscle: you need to exercise it to make it
stronger and have it overcome obstacles. But you will need that muscle if
you are going to take a maximalist approach. Likewise concentration and
focus is also like a muscle and you will need to exercise it to make it
stronger. But you are going to need that muscle if you are going to take a
minimalist approach.

Thanks for reading this. I have been able to align what I have – spare
time, a relaxing place to sit – with what I have – a blackberry, some ideas
on happiness – and I have been happy writing this down.

Pick an approach. Work those muscles. Get happy! :)
—————–
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld.

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