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On Happiness ...
Obsession for many, reality for a few
A relatively ambitious title, I know. But I am sure we have all pondered about the necessary conditions and ingredients that determine our individual happiness. I am very sceptical of people who appear to be permanently happy. I always thought that they were fooling themselves. What if not?
I have been soul-searching and analysing the inevitable ups and downs in my own life and often asked myself whether there is a blueprint for someone’s happiness. This piece is a summary of my personal findings in my journey so far.
Research suggests that a large component of our happiness is genetically determined. Yes, whether you like it or not, people are predisposed to a certain happiness level. That would make sense with my personal observation of people. Estimates would suggest that this determines around half of your overall happiness. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about your baseline grumpiness.
Another quite influential aspect is, of course, personal circumstances. Money, status, job, health, etc., all play a role in this. It is shown how money is a commonly over-rated factor as it tapers off once certain levels have been satisfied.
Psychological studies have shown that money doesn’t equal happiness. For instance, Loewenstein (1996) asked visitors to Pittsburgh International Airport to rank from 1 (most important) to 5 (least important) on a list of “things that might be important when it comes to making people happy”. They were then asked to assign percentages as to the importance of each factor in determining overall happiness. The table below shows the mean ranking and percentage weights that respondents assigned to each variable. High income received the lowest ranking and rating.
This is in line with my personal experience. Yes, there was a time when I was chasing money. Coming from humble beginnings, I wanted to prove to myself and my family that I can get enough money. While I felt happy for a while, it only proved to be a temporary improvement in my happiness. The thing with having and making money is that you tend to meet people who have way, way more than yourself. Unless you are Musk or Bezos, you can only lose in that game.
The third element of happiness is “intentional activity”. Researchers define it as “discrete actions or practices that people can choose to do”. By process of elimination, intentional activity must account for roughly a third of people’s happiness.
Typical activities are of a behavioural nature, such as exercise, having sex, showing kindness and socialising. Similarly, trying to see the best by being optimistic and showing regular appreciation for all the things you have is also having a notable effect, it would seem. Devoting your time and effort to meaningful work and vocation equally determines a large part of your happiness.
This third element I found personally to be the “delta” in my overall well-being and feeling of contentment or happiness. It’s the only one you can really influence. Exercise and developing a positive mindset through meditation have also worked well for me. Equally, playing music (guitar, in my case) has proven to be very beneficial. Speaking and interacting with like-minded people has also strongly contributed to my overall well-being. Believe it or not, interacting on Twitter and writing this Substack has had quite a positive influence, so thank you all for being part of it.
So below is my list of things that have worked well in my personal life to improve happiness.
Mo’ money mo’ problems. Having money is great and gives you options, but once you have reached what you think is enough, the extra money will decrease your happiness.
Lift weights and go for a walk. Look after your body. I have neglected it for a while. I am trying to put in at least a walk if I am not feeling up to it. I am also back in lifting weight mode. It certainly works. Yes, from time to time, I like my fair share of drinks and good food. You gotta enjoy it in measurements.
Build and nurture relationships. We are social beings (normally). Building relationships takes time. Invest in the people you love and trust. Endless returns in sight.
Know thyself. Spend time reflecting on how far you have come and where you are going. Get to know yourself by putting yourself into uncomfortable situations.
Meditate. I used to think it was a hoax. But I started it many years ago. Any form works. But it helps you calm your mind and reflect. It is well worth the time. Mind is like a muscle; train it.
Do work in something that excites you. I know it’s corny and easy to say if you don’t have to put bread on the table. But is working on something you are enjoying such a bad thing? Try as a side gig first, maybe.
Sleep. Very much underappreciated facet of our lives. I like my sleep. Minimum 8 hours to rest and recharge. Many can work with less, but you have to have a quality rest.
Let things come to you. I don’t believe in destiny, but I think there is an element of not forcing when the universe or whatever is not showing you the right signals. Some of the best things come to you when you least expect it. My wife was such a heavenly gift, and I am very much thankful for her to have happened to my life.
Take action. Don’t hesitate and wait for things to happen. Don’t hold grudges; say how you feel and move on. Reflect on setbacks but move on quickly. Take decisions, take a chance.
Find your tribe. You are not alone in anything you do. Technology is giving us the tools for endless network effects.
Hope you found this useful. Wishing you all the happiness!