Happiness, the pursuit

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After celebrating Independence Day here in the U.S.A. last week, we should remember the goal for those revolutionaries ultimately was a nation that would especially protect the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness“.

A government cannot grant you happiness. But it’s nice of ours to at least promise to get out of the way and not impede our pursuit of it.

How’s the pursuit going for you? Me? I think I probably have moments of happiness at a slightly above average rate. Happiness, though, is an elusive state. If you notice yourself feeling happy and try to dissect why, you lose the feeling. You can look back on truly happy moments after the fact, but it’s hard to catch happiness in the act. What if the act of pursuing actually prevents you from reaching the desired state?

Can you list distinct, indisputable happy moments in your life? This is a good exercise for your journal. What are the peak happy times from throughout your life, the big falling-in-love and birth-of-your-children moments, and the small, quiet sitting-on-a-covered-porch-during-a-gentle-rain moments?

It’s worthwhile to excavate those memories and try to understand why those moments stand out. You might discover some common elements to help set yourself up for even more happiness, to create the conditions most likely to spark more happy memories. Why not be happy on purpose?

This enlightening TED Talk from Matt Killingsworth highlights his research showing that people are happiest when they are lost in a moment, when their minds do NOT wander.

This seems true for many of my happiest moments. The chatty part of my brain, the happiness-killing part prone to near constant monologuing, disappears when I’m in a zone, whether that’s work or play or reading or watching a movie or riding a roller coaster. Happiness is absorption.

Jason Silva, in a recent interview on the Tim Ferriss Podcast, said that his aim is to build his life around flow states. Excellent idea.

How can I set myself up for more flow states, more moments getting lost in something that quiets that inner monologue, that stops my mind from wandering away from the present moment? What are the conditions that tend to lead to this kind of absorption?

Can I craft my day around creating flow states for work and for play? Set up my work area, tune out distractions, and just begin, whether I feel like it or not. Maybe by creating the climate for happy moments and engaging in activities that require complete absorption, happiness will pursue me rather than the other way around.

More happiness, less pursuit.


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