Achievements Don’t Equate To Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is life to some people, although they’ll likely never achieve it. They won’t get to their desired level of happiness because they think that a certain achievement will bring them happiness. Instead, they should learn what books of wisdom already know: be happy with what you have.

In his book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?, Raj Raghunathan looks into this question. He has much to share when it comes to happiness and how one should think about that desired emotional state in the context of their life as a whole.

Raghunathan: That’s the plight of most people in the world, I would say. There are expectations that if you achieve some given thing, you’re going to be happy. But it turns out that’s not true. And a large part of that is due to adaptation, but a large part of it also is that you see this mountain in front of you and you want to climb over it. And when you do, it turns out there are more mountains to climb.

The one thing that has really really helped me in this regard is a concept that I call “the dispassionate pursuit of passion” in the book, and basically the concept boils down to not tethering your happiness to the achievement of outcomes. The reason why it’s important to not tie happiness to outcomes is that outcomes by themselves don’t really have an unambiguously positive or negative effect on your happiness. Yes, there are some outcomes—you get a terminal disease, or your child dies—that are pretty extreme, but let’s leave those out. But if you think about it, the breakup that you had with your childhood girlfriend, or you broke an arm and were in a hospital bed for two months, when they occurred, you might have felt, “Oh my goodness, this is the end of the world! I’m never going to recover from it.” But it turns out we’re very good at recovering from those, and not just that, but those very events that we thought were really extremely negative were in fact pivotal in making us grow and learn.

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Optimists Are Rebels

Grant Morrison is one of the best comic writers and he has a refreshing take to how rebels ought to act: be optimistic. That’s right the greatest rebellion one can lead right now is one of optimism. Ten years ago he wrote All-Star Superman to show his approach and more recently people have been writing about the impact his Superman run had on comics.

A few years ago Morrison gave an interview which is still relevant today:

“In a world, I’m reliably told, that’s going to the dogs, the real mischief, the real punk rock rebellion, is a snarling, ‘fuck you’ positivity and optimism. Violent optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary is the Alpha form of outrage these days. It really freaks people out.”

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Thanks to MeFi!

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Know The Risks

Humans are really good at pattern recognition but really bad at figuring out which patterns actually matter. This impacts how we live as individuals and as a collective – be it a local neighbourhood or as a country. We look at patterns that threaten us and overreact to some (like removing our freedoms in the name of fighting terror) or under react to other threats like climate change.

“We don’t expect any of the events that we describe to happen in any 10-year period. They might—but, on balance, they probably won’t,” Sebastian Farquhar, the director of the Global Priorities Project, told me. “But there’s lots of events that we think are unlikely that we still prepare for.”

For instance, most people demand working airbags in their cars and they strap in their seat-belts whenever they go for a drive, he said. We may know that the risk of an accident on any individual car ride is low, but we still believe that it makes sense to reduce possible harm.

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Smart Kids, Depression, Existential Crisis, And What You Can Do

Kids think a lot about the world around them thanks to their natural curiosity. As adults we can embrace their curiosity and encourage it or we can dull their intellectual indulgences. How we react and support kids in their process of learning can have a big impact.

At various ages kids learn that their lives are finite and this can lead to what is referred to existential depression. They ask fundamental questions about life and what one ought to do while alive (something that many adults only do when they reach their midlife crises). Denying proper answers to kids who are questioning the meaning of life can cause more harm than good. So when confronted by the “big” questions of life don’t discourage the line of inquiry, instead you ought to embrace the discussion.

How can we help our bright youngsters cope with these questions? We cannot do much about the finiteness of our existence. However, we can help youngsters learn to feel that they are understood and not so alone and that there are ways to manage their freedom and their sense of isolation.

The isolation is helped to a degree by simply communicating to the youngster that someone else understands the issues that he/she is grappling with. Even though your experience is not exactly the same as mine, I feel far less alone if I know that you have had experiences that are reasonably similar. This is why relationships are so extremely important in the long-term adjustment of gifted children (Webb, Meckstroth and Tolan, 1982).

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Never Disregard Kierkegaard

Relax

There is a trend in our culture to be proud of how busy one is – and this approach to busyness isn’t a good attitude. Instead, we should look to Søren Kierkegaard the Danish existentialist who advocates for reflection on what one is doing and not how much one is doing. This can be hard in a world in which people are prideful of not taking vacation time.

You can begin positive change in your life today – just take a few minutes and think about what really matters.

Stephen Evans, a philosophy professor at Baylor University, explains that Kierkegaard saw busyness as a means of distracting oneself from truly important questions, such as who you are and what life is for. Busy people “fill up their time, always find things to do,” but they have no principle guiding their life. “Everything is important but nothing is important,” he adds.

Without answering crucial and terrifying questions about life, without deciding on a unified purpose, Kierkegaard believed that one could not develop a self. He called those with without one unified purpose “double minded,” and argued that this mindset causes busyness.

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