Two thoughts on happiness

friends and stars

Here are two thoughts on achieving “happiness” that I came across this week: 1. happiness is a side-effect of engaging with life (an engagement which inevitably includes unhappiness), and 2. the common thread between “happy people” seems to be meaningful relationships (which can’t be avoided if you are truly engaging with life). So simple yet so hard.

Thought #1 came from We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider, where he writes about how not only is happiness not something we can ever hold on to, it’s actually something most often realized in hindsight, and not really what we’re after:

“We mistakenly imagine we want “happiness,” which we tend to picture in vague, soft-focus terms, when what we really crave is the harder-edged quality of intensity. We’ve all known (or been) people who returned again and again to relationships that seemed to make them miserable. Quite a few soldiers can’t get used to the lowered stakes of civilian life, and reenlist. We want to be hurt, astonished, reminded we’re alive.”

Reminds me of the abundant mindset

Thought #2 was in From Strength to Strength by Arthur C Brooks, where he tells of the results of the longest study of happiness ever done:

“the single most important trait of (happy) elders is healthy relationships. Happiness is love. Full stop. There are two pillars of happiness…. One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age fifty were the healthiest at age eighty.”

Numerous studies have shown that one of the great markers for happiness among people at midlife and beyond is people who can rattle off the names of a few authentic, close friends. It is not necessary that they be numerous to achieve happiness, and, in fact, people tend to get more selective about their friends as they age and reduce the number of true intimates. But the number of real friends needs to be more than zero and more than just your spouse.

TED talk on the happiness study mentioned above

This excerpt from Kreider sums it up nicely. Striving for happiness is missing the point.

“Perhaps the reason we so often experience happiness only in hindsight, and that any deliberate campaign to achieve it is so misguided, is that it isn’t an obtainable goal in itself but only an aftereffect. It’s the consequence of having lived in the way that we’re supposed to by which I don’t mean ethically correctly but fully, consciously engaged in the business of living. In this respect it resembles averted vision, a phenomenon familiar to backyard astronomers whereby, in order to pick out a very faint star, you have to let your gaze drift casually to the space just next to it; if you look directly at it, it vanishes. And it’s also true, come to think of it, that the only stars we ever see are not the real stars, those blinding cataclysms in the present, but always only the light of the untouchable past.”

Comments welcome!

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