In order to give myself some inspiration during my run on Tuesday, I decided to listen to The Knowledge Project’s interview with Naval, where he spoke about reading and happiness (I haven’t listened to the full thing, they covered more topics than that). It turned out to be a great decision, as it really helped me to gain a new, more hopeful perspective on happiness and also allayed some of my confusion in the topic.
The first most important point that Naval highlighted was that happiness is different for everyone. There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of happiness; each of us should work towards finding our own form of happiness. Some of us might find the most happiness simply by performing positive actions towards others. Others gain theirs through satisfaction and contentment. There are even some who derive joy from being in a flow state.
In an earlier reflection over my confusion over happiness, I made the observation that we humans are unable to remain in an elevated state of happiness due to the hedonic treadmill concept. I reasoned that since our feelings inevitably regress to the mean, that we’d be unable to remain happy for very long. This led to the depressing conclusion that we simply can’t find lasting happiness.
In further reading, I came across Mark Manson’s blog post on The Feedback Loop from Hell. The essay brings up the insight that the desire for a positive experience is in itself a negative experience. For example, having a desire to be rich causes us to feel inadequate, and thus, poor. This does somewhat tie in to the idea of regression to the mean that I mentioned earlier, since returning to the mean from a positive position would be a negative experience in relativity. From his post, I gleaned that it is in surmounting some sort of odds that we can find happiness.
Naval actually has a similar idea of happiness, though from a different perspective. In his understanding, happiness is the default state that we humans are in. However, as we’re exposed to an increasing number of possibilities and opportunities in our lives growing up, our desire to own more, consume more and achieve more grows. It is these desires that cause us to deviate from our default state, such that we lose that sense of happiness that we’ve always had as children.
He has discovered for himself that we can find happiness when we let go of our desires, when we truly are immersed in the present moment. When we reach that state, our mind no longer worries about the past and the future — it doesn’t have to. It simply shuts down, and within the acceptance of the present situation lies bliss.
I suppose that all the different forms of happiness I mentioned earlier are inextricably linked — flow state is simply being immersed in the moment, satisfaction and contentment is simply the letting go of our desires. I think that I’m finally content thinking about happiness in this way.