Happiness is a funny thing. It seems to be the desired outcome for all of our actions, but the relationship between effort spent pursuing happiness and what is actually achieved is precarious at best.
In fact, I think for many the relationship is negative. The more they try to be happy the less happy they become.
People aren’t wrong in yearning for happiness, but most are pretty confused about how it comes about.
Accomplishment, Not Stuff
Success in life kind of works like this:
1). Develop unique talents, perspire, take a risk, do interesting things (maybe get lucky a time or two)
3). Obtain money, admiration of friends, security, power, etc
The important point to make is that all four of these steps are dependent on one another to work. Like four stools on a chair, you have to have all of them intact to keep everything afloat.
The problem is that most people are wired to constantly look for shortcuts that erase short term pain even if it’s more expensive to our well being in the long run. That is, you can’t really be happy without embracing steps 1-3 first.
The curious thing is that steps 1-3 naturally lead you to unexpected places. If they were conventional then they wouldn’t be unique and thus wouldn’t require deliberate attention.
For someone pursuing happiness this presents a curious cunundrum. You can’t really tell where it will come from because in order to obtain it you have to embrace some things which are by their nature unpredictable.
Things that are uncertain are a little funny, because their behavior tends to evade traditional canons of rationality. They’re not linear, behave dynamically, and often have a logic that completely evades patterns of everyday life.
That is, the best way to deal with risk is not to runaway from it, but to run straight through it. Uncertainty is like an omnipresent animal that always waits to prey on the weakest link. Trying to evade it simply turns reality into a ruthless vulture that’ll peck away at your progress until you have nothing left. Leave the front door unlocked and let it into your bedroom. Don’t build up a barricade.
So what does this mean for the average Joe that just “wants to be happy?”
Simple. Don’t be happy, be interesting.
Being Interesting: An Uncomfortable, Lonely Place
Being interesting by definition means taking on a bunch of tasks that are unusual to other people. Doing that kind of stuff usually isn’t very fun. It’s lonely, uncertain, and increases your rate of visible failure.
But all those things are necessary for success and admiration, which is necessary for happiness.
No, happiness is not a linear process that makes you feel better and tranquil. It’s a rather uncomfortable things that means allowing yourself to be drawn into the tasks you least want to do.
That’s because most people feel uncomfortable about the same stuff, which leaves big unexploited gaps in the realm of possibility. Learning how to arbitrage those gaps makes you interesting, which in a roundabout way makes you happy……eventually.