Defining Happiness

TL;DR

Happiness is simply the absence of desire.

Happiness is critical for wellness, and we’re morally responsible for it.

Happiness is a choice, largely driven by what we focus on.

What is happiness?

Happiness, as defined by most people, is simply the absence of desire:
  • We’re not as concerned about “happiness” as much as “avoiding pain”.
  • Most of the time, we want to change something to avoid being in pain or bored.
  • For most people, something is always missing.
  • Anything that people say brings happiness only brings happiness for them.

The simplest answer to happiness is to set low standards:
  • Remember that life is transient, and that everything is temporary.

Psychologists have identified three Happy Lives that can typically fulfill our desires:
  • The “Pleasant Life” creates as much positive emotion as possible.
  • The “Good Life” is a constant, engaged flow of worthwhile new life experiences.
  • The “Meaningful Life” uses your natural strengths to serve a purpose larger than yourself.

Happiness is always about finding satisfaction, which is the only way to maintain long-term success.

  • While it’s possible to succeed without happiness, happiness is the only way to reap its rewards.

Even when we don’t strive for satisfaction in life, we still want it.

  • The avoidance of pain or bad consequences is still trying to reduce unhappiness.

Happiness has hidden benefits

Satisfied people have an easier life:
  • Hardship is more bearable.
  • The immune system is stronger.
  • Satisfied people have more energy and finish tasks quicker, meaning more time.
  • Positive thinking makes learning easier.
  • Without bad feelings, creativity is easier.
  • Self-control is easier because happy people run “to” instead of “from” things.
  • Friendships are better:
    • More people want to be friends with an enthusiastic person, but less with an unhappy one.
  • Everything has more meaning when we’re happy.

Happiness also avoids the long-term consequences of misery:
  • Negativity causes the brain to deteriorate:
    • Fears reinforce themselves:
      • Fear of vulnerability or failing
      • Aversion to all risks
      • Afraid to self-express
    • Feelings become harder to manage:
      • Unable or unwilling to identify feelings
      • Feeling inferior or inadequate
      • Forced into constant fight/flight/freeze reactions
      • Low self-esteem builds self-rejection
    • Disconnection from reality:
      • Oblivious to self
      • Tendency to set unrealistic, unattainable, idealized expectations
      • Anxious about all consequences
      • Exaggerating real and imagined threats
  • Unhappiness causes physiological problems:
    • The immune system doesn’t effectively fight diseases.
    • Wounds and injuries heal slower.
  • Unhappy people also tend to live hypocritically:
    • Defining self-worth by others’ opinions
    • Distrusting others
    • Not self-forgiving or forgiving others
    • Withdrawn and isolated to avoid rejection
    • Feeling misunderstood and presuming others are evil

Happiness isn’t a circumstance

Pleasant things by themselves don’t connect to inner happiness:
  • Enjoyable things outside their place can create long-term disasters.
  • Everything enjoyable also comes with responsibilities.
  • Some things are never worth the investment if your goal is to be happy:
    • A nice home, which can be satisfying, but won’t create fulfillment, and can be a risky endeavor.
    • Possessions may give a rush when acquired, but the excitement fades quickly.
    • Career success comes with many happiness-suppressing responsibilities and sacrifices.
    • Sexual pleasure and physical intimacy give the most intense human experience without many adverse consequences, but the rush fades quickly and diminishes in intensity with age.
    • Romantic relationships and friendships give connection and meaning, but people have to tend to other matters and will leave you alone for part of the day.
    • Safety provides comfort, but never purpose or satisfaction.
    • Success may provoke happiness, but it never guarantees it.
  • Any other enjoyable experience or series of experiences (concert, movie, game, song, or anything else) fades.
  • Further, anything that does give satisfaction will provide a diminishing return the more you do it.

Each person is solely responsible for their happiness, and nobody else can change it:
  • Our personalities defines quite a bit of how happy we generally are, but we get to choose how we process the information we receive.

We can’t change our feelings, but we have control over our responses:
  • We can control how we express our feelings.
  • We can control our attitude about what happens to us.
  • We can decide the patterns of our lives that our experiences fit into.
  • While we can be influenced, we each decide how much we want to be influenced.

We tend to repeat statements that circumvent responsibility for our happiness:
  • “I just can’t…”
  • “(thing) is holding me back.”
  • “If I get (thing), then everything will be okay.”
  • “I have no other choice.”
  • “(person or situation) won’t let me.”

Our physical reactions give context for our feelings in relation to the world around us, so how we express them determines how we process them.

Happiness is a moral duty

You’re not the only person affected by your decisions:
  • Even if you don’t see it, there are some people in your life who love you.
  • In whatever way you interpret it, God made you.
  • And, even if you’re an atheist with no friends or family, you’re a highly sophisticated, ordered living being that has at least some potential use in the unknown future.

A bad day is perfectly acceptable, but prolonged misery drains others’ wellness:
  • Miserable people destroy the happiness of those they’re around.
  • Beyond destroying lives, misery can erode entire communities.

Happiness requires the right focus

The ability to change how we see the future and past is a sign of mental wellness:
  • The past is a pile of incomplete memories, and the future is simply our imagination.
  • Thus, we can’t harm anything by bending how we see the future or past to our desires.
  • When we rewrite our past, it gives us greater control over how we see the future.

Only focus on true, good, and beautiful things:

Avoid or ignore discouraging and irrelevant things:
  • Desires you can’t presently accomplish
  • Status or accomplishments compared to others
  • How things were better in the past
  • How things could or will become better in the future (which isn’t guaranteed)
  • What you don’t have or haven’t attained
  • Unknown risks that could hurt you, your plans, or those you love

Learn self-acceptance:
  • Completely accept and love yourself without any conditions for what you think, do, believe, or want.
  • Plainly express who you really are to yourself, with no preset limits or expectations.
  • Separate what you do from who you are, and accept yourself even when your actions aren’t acceptable.

Contrary to popular belief, happy people do not ignore bad things:
  • Ignoring bad parts of reality only works temporarily.
  • The happiest people tend to say “things could be worse” or “I am okay” instead of “everything is good”.

Unhappiness starts with stress

All misery comes from prolonged stress over something:
  • Stress and happiness only exist in our minds.
  • Depression is past-tense stress mixed with hopelessness.

Unlike stress, stressors exist in the world around us:
  • Most stressors are outside our direct control.
  • Stressors create stress only when:
    1. We feel we must take action
    2. We fear losing something

Not all stress is bad:
  • Eustress keeps us active and happy (e.g., stress from an alarm clock).
  • Distress, by contrast, inspires fear and uncertainty:
    • Causes waste in resources, time, and energy
    • Linked to many health problems like heart attack and stroke
    • Any action driven by distress usually ends in mental illness

Find your stressors

Resolving distress requires understanding your stressors:
  1. Meditate on your thoughts to find overwhelming feelings.
    • Try to track the feelings as they occur.
  2. Recognize the line between what you can and can’t control.
    • Focus on the facts behind your feelings.
  3. Release anything uncontrollable and focus on managing what you can change.

While finding stress simply requires meditation, changing it takes more work.