A few days late on this month's post too, sorry about that, lots of restructuring going on in the background. I'll talk about that next month.
For now, coincidentally this month is building on last month, looking at Happiness a little bit more in depth.
My friend shared with me an article about a wildly popular course at Yale about ‘How to be Happy’. This reminded me of my favourite book, ‘The Willpower Instinct’ which is a based on a wildly popular course at Stanford. So I read through the article once and thought, I’ll sign up for the course on coursera, but in the meantime I’ll compare what’s in the article to what I’ve already complies in my ‘Stuff You Should Know’ section of this site.
What I realized is, I don’t really talk about how to be happy, I just talk about how we process information, 1) we make mental rules of thumb 2) we have competing priorities, long term and short term based on how we feel 3) We are driven by the promise of reward 4/5) Our emotions are non-verbal cues from the side of the brain that processes things in the background. So I thought I’d see where these tips on being happy fit in, and what I found was, these people who write about Happiness seem to make one huge mistake right up front and never seem to recover. They don’t nail down what they mean by ‘Happy’ !
If you read the article it says there are many hours devoted to defining happy in the course, but from the article it seems like we’re talking about a wide range of emotions. For example, it could be the feeling you get when doing something you enjoy, like eating ice cream, it could be the feeling you get when you get great news, like you just won the lottery, or it could be the general feeling you have throughout the day, like when someone asks ‘how are you?’ and you want to be able to say ‘Happy’ :)
These are very different experiences, let’s call eating the ice cream ‘bliss’, and finding out good news like winning the lottery ‘anticipation of bliss’, and the general mood you’re hoping for is the ‘Happy’ all of these books on Happiness are trying to help you achieve.
As I was thinking about this I was reminded that in the book ‘Solve for Happy’ the author says our default state is to be Happy, it’s other things that get in our way. When I looked at it like this everything fell into place. Note: last month I said the default state of the autopilot is grumpy, what's I'm saying here is the default state of your 'pilot' brain is happy, see 'The Second Thing' for the distinction between the two.
Happiness (the general state of well being you hope to have throughout the day) is not elation, it is the absence of stress, the absence of worry. This fits in with all of the advice in the article, and it fits with what I’ve complied in ‘The Stuff You Should Know’. By looking at it like this the advice in this article and all the other articles can now be seen as tips on how to reduce stress in your life, rather than a list of unconnected thing to do, which will magically unlock this secret, elusive feeling of bliss.
Let me explain.
Here is my very brief summary of the article:
This lines up with what others say, which is the keys to happiness are:
These things are correct, but if you don’t have it in the right context these things can make you less happy!
To recap my idea, Happiness is the absence of stress, stress comes from;
So, I agree with everything the article said, but with an extra bit of info:
Does that make sense?
So to recap,
What everyone has wrong is they are looking at happiness too broadly, happiness is the absence of stress, not what we see in lotto commercials. We need to look at our lives to see what is causing us stress and try to mitigate it in order to be happy. We are notoriously bad at this due to a poor understanding of ‘bliss’, but it’s easy to get much better at it very quickly. The trick is to pay attention to things you think will make you happier (the promise of reward) and if it actually does or not, see The Third Thing.
We also don’t understand that we have two competing brains, this causes us endless confusion and stress, but it doesn’t have to. You just have to know when you’re in low energy or in a state of fear your immediate gratification brain takes over and you feel out of control, and don’t stick to your goals. When you’re well rested, full of energy, and not feeling scared you’ll be able to stick to long term goals and feel in control, see The Second Thing.
If you’re interested in reading more on these topics here are the main books I recall which talked about the areas which I list as causing us stress: