Thursday, May 16, 2013

The pursuit of happiness

Adam Grant considers the mistakes of a friend who seems to have finally found happiness only after a lenthy pursuit. He found it by ceasing to pursue it. Grant describes four typical blunders made by those who make happiness their goal:
.... The first blunder was in trying to figure out if he was happy. When we pursue happiness, our goal is to experience more joy and contentment. To find out if we're making progress, we need to compare our past happiness to our current happiness. This creates a problem: the moment we make that comparison, we shift from an experiencing mode to an evaluating mode. ....

The second error was in overestimating the impact of life circumstances on happiness. .....

The third misstep was in pursuing happiness alone. Happiness is an individual state, so when we look for it, it's only natural to focus on ourselves. Yet a wealth of evidence consistently shows that self-focused attention undermines happiness and causes depression. ....

The final mistake was in looking for intense happiness. When we want to be happy, we look for strong positive emotions like joy, elation, enthusiasm, and excitement. Unfortunately, research shows that this isn't the best path to happiness. .... When we aim for intense positive emotions, we evaluate our experiences against a higher standard, which makes it easier to be disappointed. ....

As...John Stuart Mill once wrote, "Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness."
"You know, these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. 
It's not happiness or unhappiness,
it's either blessed or unblessed. 
As the Bible says, 
'Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.'"
Bob Dylan.

Adam Grant: Does Trying to Be Happy Make Us Unhappy?