“Happiness is the ultimate purpose of human existence.” - Aristotle
Happiness is what everyone wants, it is what drives us to do whatever it is that we choose to do. Ultimately, it is an end in itself, as Aristotle would explain. If we investigate why we are doing whatever it is we are doing, we will end up with - “to be happy.” It’s so important to note that the motivation for doing what we are doing is for the feeling or experience of happiness, not for a state of happiness. Consciously we want to be happy, but subconsciously we know we can only experience happiness, and that experience is fleeting.
Often, maybe most often, we set out to experience happiness but we end up with something else, something that is easily confused with happiness, like pleasure. Pleasure can come from getting things, or having things, or having things done to us, but happiness can only come from doing things, or accomplishing things. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes this kind of happiness as a state of flow. The feeling of pleasure will soon be forgotten, but the impact that comes from the experience of happiness or flow can stay with us for a lifetime.
“The opposite of happiness is not sadness, it’s boredom” - Tim Ferris
If we all want to be happy, why do so many of us have such a hard time achieving happiness? Pleasure has become cheap and easy, for most, and for many the default. Conversely, achieving a state of flow requires some thought and some effort and is usually packaged as a challenge. We have been conditioned to avoid challenges whenever possible, and in so doing, we avoid the very opportunities to learn, improve, and excel. We avoid the one thing, the stepping stone that can get us to a state of flow - excitement.
By following the path of safety and comfort, we are lowering the bar that we set for ourselves, but by seeking out excitement and the state of flow that may follow, we are raising the bar, which will require ever-increasing levels of ability, but in doing so, we will not only become better for it, but we will desire it.
So instead of asking ourselves - “What can I do to be happy?” We should be asking - “What would excite me?”
And when we take this new approach, seeking challenges and excitement over pleasure and comfort, we will find ourselves settling into a long-term state of peacefulness that we may not have known we were even seeking - that is the state of contentment. This is what we need to be striving for.
He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life. - Aristotle
True contentment will come when we find ourselves successfully ascending what Abraham Maslow describes as our hierarchy of needs, reaching the pinnacle which is self-actualization, or living a life of self-fulfillment. This is the point where all our needs are being met and we are living the life we are supposed to live. The real challenge is not just removing the hurdles life has put in front of us, but the internal obstacles that we have placed ourselves.
Among life’s cruelest truths is this one: Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition. - Dan Gilbert
Digging a Little Deeper
If You Want to Do Some Digging Yourself:
Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert (or check out Jim's Notes)
The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (or check out Jim's Notes)