The most standard, basic, and laziest answer to “what do you want in life” is “I want to be happy”.
Arguably the question itself is a bad question. But anyway.
So, you want to be happy. What does that even mean? Do you know?
When we say we want to be happy, what we probably think:
1. We want to be happy all the time
To be happy in every situation. Else we would have failed, and everything is seems bleak.
This is black and white thinking, finite and infinite thinking.
I am guessing this is where most people are: vague idea of what they want. And never spend enough time to question our thinking for it.
You know that feeling of being unsatisfied in life, but at the same time you don’t actually know why and what will satisfy / make you happy. Congrats, you’re stuck.
It’s simply impossible to be happy all the time because life is frickin long.
If you lived till 75, you have 27,375 days. That’s around 39 million minutes. If we are awake 2/3 of our days, that’s around 26 million minutes of waking hours.
Now, think of all the things that can go right and go wrong in that many minutes.
Good and bad moments are short. They come and go.
How many mind-blowing and breathtaking moments, how many kisses, how many rock concerts, how many yummy meals, how many exciting travel experiences, can you fit in those seconds?
How many hours of commute, how many fights, how many annoying people, how many presentation and project deadlines can you fit in those seconds?
If you are one of the normies, probably 90% of life are mundane things, and only 10% we can label as purely positive or negative.
Trying to get every second “right” / positive is going to drive you crazy.
It’s impossible. you wouldn’t even be able to handle constant stimulation like that.
This idea is also impossible because you get used to things all the time. Your standards and expectations go up all the time.
Before you had an iPhone, you dreamt of having one, you wait in anticipation, all the excitement. Either saving up money to buy one, or sometime get it as a gift (if this is you, tell us more about this will ya?).
Now you have them, it’s so normal and you don’t even notice it anymore. You’re not excited about it anymore.
Now you want other stuff.
2. We want durable, lasting, and memorable happiness.
People who have spent a little more time wondering about happiness might reach this conclusion.
This is a purely theoretical state, and I think most of us know and accept that this is impossible. But let’s dive a bit deeper and get it out of our way.
What will happen if we managed to get here? I think we’ll be bored, we won’t know what is happy and what is not happy.
Everything is a flat line. A line that keeps going up.
And who are we kidding, with our attention span these days, we can’t even remember what we had for lunch. How can we cling to and keep a happy moment for long?
Everything is fleeting, Constant state of happiness (this needs to be defined better btw) needs hard work.
People highly experienced and trained in meditation can access that state (from what I vaguely know) but it takes effort.
I don’t know about enlightened people, perhaps that’s their default state?
Now, onto real life examples.
Go outside. You eat, you travel, you hang out with friends, you see concerts, you go to the gym.
One thing constantly happening? People taking photos, videos. documenting their activities, moments, trying to make the fleeting life more permanent, a trace of life, to relive the moments.
It makes a moment more durable and memorable.
We can classify it further down to two types:
1) External. First is social signalling, “pencitraan” — which also contribute largely to “happiness”. The second is fundamental human need to share with others. When we are happy or sad, we are wired to share and seek validation from others. We really are social animals.
2) Internal. Nostalgia, collecting memory triggers. To be able to relive the happy moments any time they want. This is why we try and go back to places where we had fond memories, or do the things we once had fun doing, hoping to ignite and experience the same feeling.
These are the ones I can think of right now, any thoughts please share in the comments.
3. We want to have more happy moments than less happy moments.
Now we’re talking. This is the most realistic and reasonable way of approaching this problem.
And I think most of us have unconsciously accepted this.
We will say, doh, obviously, I know I can’t be happy all the time. I am not delusional.
But there is a difference between a) accepting this fact unconsciously, and b) having done the work in reaching this conclusion and then thinking about it consciously.
So, how can we be happy (have more happy moments than less happy moments)?
So we have kinda laid out a couple of ways we can define happiness.
Now, generating happiness and making sure you have more happy than unhappy moments became a much easier task.
Because there are really many many routes to happiness.
We have set the expectation around how much happiness we actually can accept. Now let’s get onto reverse engineering this umbrella term.
If I can remove the word “happiness” from the dictionary, I would. Alongside “success”.
“Happiness” is abstract. It’s subjective. And it contains of too too many multitudes and contributing factor. It is paralysing.
A couple of more helpful words to substitute “happiness” are: pleasure, meaning, gratitude, not boring / newness / novelty.
It’s helpful to have words to describe different levels of abstraction and taxonomy.
For example dogs > mammals > animals > living being > organism.
iPhones > iOS phones > smart phones > micro computing > hardware + software > gadgets > ??
I need to find much better examples for this but you get the idea.
The problem comes when we use an abstract concept as a life goal. And oh how popular it is!
There are a lot to unpack about good vs bad goals, so I’ll leave it at this for now.
It’s also really interesting to explore the idea of how popular life goals of “happiness” and “success” are. I want to explore how these concepts being deliberately defined and put in place as a vague social construct (who is benefitting from the vagueness of these? Is it deliberate or just exploiting a loophole in our monkey mind?). Another topic for another day.
Anyway, I am sure no one will feel sincerely happy nor successful if they have never actually tried to personally define and reframe these abstract concepts.
Back to dissecting “happiness”, here are a couple of concepts that affect “happiness”.
I classified them in a logical manner, from the root concept to all the related subconcepts.
So many things to unpack here. Will leave it at this for now. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this mapping.
It’s all semantics. But happiness problem is a semantics problem, so here’s a semantics solution.
A little perspective
Going back to “having more happy than unhappy moments…
When things don’t go well in life, we will suffer from focus bias. It would seem like the world is crumbling down, and we forget that we probably still have more happy moments than unhappy moments.
But of course, only robots can do that. When your dog dies, of course you will be upset and need time to recover. When you don’t get the promotion at work, when the deal you have been working so hard for didn’t land, of course you’ll feel like a failure.
To be able to immediately step back and say “I’m ok now, I still have more happy moments” is just psychopathic.
But know that they are temporary. Nothing lasts forever. Good or bad.
There are really many routes to happiness. The two sure ways to be unhappy is to cling to a state, and arguing with reality.
These routes can only be unlocked by going on that personal journey of redefining happiness: thinking about what happiness means to us. And seeing the abundance of options we have to get there.
Don’t let the desire to be “happy” leave you unhappy instead.