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Happiness – Part I

The more I write, the more I’ve realized that I want to encourage people to pursue happiness above all else.

Encouraging happiness is tough to do when I haven’t quite defined ‘happiness.’

Happiness, in my use here, is a deep, fundamental alignment between (1) what you value and (2) how you live your life.

With this definition, happiness, joy, and fulfillment are pretty interchangeable.

The interesting thing about happiness is that it’s already what everyone is pursuing, anyways.

Whether we make it explicit or not, we’re all chasing happiness. Someone that buys the nicest car and pays for the best meals is doing so because they think that it will make them happy. I write this blog because I enjoy sharing my thoughts and contributing to the world.

At the same time, no one wants to be unhappy; that just not how human beings work. We sometimes act self-destructively because we think that taking the bullet for someone else will give us some sort of fulfillment.

Selflessness isn’t a bad thing (I always err on the side of selflessness); we act selfless because we think it’ll bring value to our lives.

Unhappiness is almost always because one (or both) of these is out of whack.

If Terrance is a creative person that enjoys art, Terrance will probably be miserable in a field like finance. Similarly, if Ruth is a rule-oriented person, she’ll probably hate working at a startup. It isn’t that either of these careers is better than the other; Terrance and Ruth simply chose careers that aren’t compatible with their values.

We’ve all had points in our lives where we feel like absolute crap. Our job sucks, our car’s about to die, and we can’t shake the feeling that the crapstorm will never end.

When life is out of whack, you have to be honest with yourself to figure out what’s wrong.

When either your values or your actions are screwed up, it takes some serious self-reflection to figure out what the path forward is.

Sometimes, the disconnect is because we’ve chosen bad values. Bad values (i.e. if Terrance compared his wealth to Ruth’s) are a recipe for unhappiness. If you look solely to material wealth and possessions to validate your self-worth, you’re probably going to wind up miserable.

Even with positive values in place, it won’t make a difference unless you align your actions with them. As an extreme example, you’d probably feel pretty crappy if you value integrity and honesty but spend most of your time compulsively lying to anyone and everyone. 

It’s only by picking better values and deploying them in your life that you can feel an overwhelming sense of purpose.

Happiness is dependent on (1) focusing on the right things and (2) acting in line with those values.

What I value is going to be different from what you value, and that’s ok. The key is finding what’s important for you and actually pursuing it.

Even with the right values and right actions, life is going to suck sometimes. That’s just the nature of the beast. Working through the suck is easier (and even enjoyable) when it’s working toward something you’re passionate about.

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