Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

The meaning of happiness

July 22, 2014
Does meaning create happiness?

Does meaning create happiness?

People often say ‘I just want to be happy.’

It’s more unusual to hear ‘I just want my life to be meaningful,’ yet that’s what most of us seem to want for ourselves. We chase meaning without really knowing what it looks like. When we lose a sense of meaning, we feel something important is missing. We fear the void.

What is this thing we call meaning, and why do we need it so badly?

Is meaning a type of order that sits above the mundane functions of daily life? Perhaps it’s a contextual construction to offset routine and provide an arcane answer to the question ‘Is this all there is?’ Because that’s a question we don’t like to answer. And even if we never find more, perhaps accepting the question as valid suggests there is more to life than this.

Is that knowledge alone enough to make us happy? And alleviate the feared fruitlessness of daily life? Is it a metaphysical ‘get out of jail free card’ for the unrelenting sameness of existence? Does the idea of meaning make understanding it irrelevant? In short, can the idea of meaning actually make us happy?

On the surface that may seem crazy: to be happy because of the possibility of something, even though we may choose not to find it. Like the belief in life after death, is it enough to temper fear?

I believe that happiness and meaningfulness frequently overlap. Perhaps some degree of meaning is a prerequisite for happiness. If that were the case, people may pursue meaning only as a stepping stone towards happiness.

If that was the case would there be any reason to want meaning for its own sake?


Is the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything in it 42?

July 14, 2014
Is the answer on the road?

Is the answer on the road?

Recently, after returning from an overseas trip, I found myself standing at a taxi rank on a sleet driven, cold Melbourne night. It was past midnight and the usual gaggle of yellow cabs was off in the city awaiting the club crowd. The 20-minute wait was bracing after 30 hours in a stuffy plane.

Finally the taxis started to flow, to the relief of the 60 or so people in the queue. My driver, when he arrived, was annoyed. He’d been looking for a fare for more than an hour and couldn’t understand why the controller hadn’t called through. He was on his way to McDonald’s for a coffee when he decided to tour the airport to see what was what.

He was a talker too. Wanted to know where I’d been and whether for business or pleasure. I gave him brief answers, not wishing to evoke conversation. He decided instead to tell me about the depressed market, working 7 days a week and how much he missed his family in India.

He questioned the worth of it all, or perhaps the futility, before asking ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ His pause suggested this was a real rather than rhetorical question. Having already told me he was a practicing Sikh, I thought he’d be in a better position to answer than me.

‘What do the 10 gurus have to say about it?’, I asked. ‘Would not a belief in a life of perpetual optimism be accompanied by a belief that life did, indeed, have meaning? Perhaps living for equality between all people is the purpose.’

Maybe he just enjoyed complaining about his life, maybe he was making conversation, or possibly it was a rhetorical question after all – because he changed tack and started to play with his radio.

We think of the quest for life’s meaning as a journey along a road, or through time, which leads us to the Oracle, a mysterious source with all the answers. But, like the Cheshire cat said to Alice, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going then it doesn’t really matter which way you go.’

Are we willing to take the chance and live a life without direction, hoping to find answers at the end, or does finding our purpose require more work, thought, trial and error? To put it differently, is there meaning to be found along the road?

If the meaning of life isn’t some esoteric piece of wisdom that, once discovered, unlocks the secrets of the universe and ends our quest for understanding, then what is it? And if it’s not, then how do we answer the similar question, ‘Why am I here?’ Are they the same thing? Is the meaning of life about where we came from or where we’re going? And how does what we do today influence our destination and how quickly we get there?

Big questions for a weary midnight taxi ride with a suddenly silent Sikh.

Let’s not over think it. Perhaps the answer is nothing more (or less) than 42 – as good an answer as any (from a clever but lighthearted book).

Did you know that 42 is also the number of illustrations in Alice in Wonderland?

My belief is stronger than your doubt

July 2, 2014
Breaking free of self doubt

Breaking free of self doubt

I had a very interesting weekend away recently. A friend, who I suspected was going through a difficult time, spent almost the entire two days putting me down. Enthusiastically, aggressively, relentlessly, maniacally: finding the correct description of the gusto he brought to the task is difficult.

The putdowns started with my recent modest weight gain. I admit that I’m somewhat touchy about it; it’s the chink in my armour. My friend pounced. All good-natured ribbing? Not really. After more than a hundred references to it (yes, really!) my wife uncharacteristically told him to drop it. He didn’t. His wife told him to stop it. He didn’t. So another description: obsessive.

At first I laughed, then I got annoyed, became weary and finally just felt sorry for him.

We love to think that what others say or think about us doesn’t matter. We say that it’s their problem, not ours. But it’s not true. I did care. Why? Because it questioned my self-belief and my carefully crafted perception of myself.

It made me doubt myself. And that was depressing.

The paradox is, the more we say it doesn’t matter, the more it does. We’ve all questioned our self-worth. That’s normal. So how do we maintain our self-belief in the face of sometimes relentless and overwhelming criticism? By understanding who we are and what we’ve achieved. Accept that we will, at times, have a bad day. Bounce back. Believe in yourself, overcome doubt and carry on.

The wave of success

June 6, 2014
Surfing is life

Surfing is life

Last week I enjoyed a week’s holiday on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where I spent time in the warm Noosa waters surfing with my son. With a busy work schedule it was a great way to have a break and surfing is my meditation; a time to feel totally free.

Surfing is a challenge and every wave is different. For the best ride, I adapt to the changing conditions, anticipate the best place to take off and commit by paddling hard. Get it right and I’m rewarded with a ride across the wave, effortlessly gliding ahead of the break using the power of the ocean to drive the board forward.

Some days are brilliant and others frustrating. There are so many variables and the challenge makes it interesting every time. I was thinking how much this is like life. To succeed, we must position ourselves as best we can, read the environment, trust our skills, commit and put in the effort up front. Only then might we be rewarded with a great ride.

Not everyone is prepared to paddle; some prefer to sit on their board and allow the wave to pass beneath them. They sit in the line-up all day without ever catching a wave, not prepared to make the commitment or expend the energy to succeed.

If you wait for the ‘perfect’ wave before making the commitment to paddle you’ll surely miss it. Don’t wait. Catch several small waves before tackling a larger one. Often you’ll miss it, sometimes you’ll fall, and that’s all part of the learning. Just paddle back out and commit to the next one.

If nature throws rough water at you it can be best to ride it out. If you fight against it you expend your energy and still go backwards. Sometimes you have to just have to know when to stop pushing and wait for the storm to pass.

When we’re prepared we catch the wave and are rewarded with a long, effortless and flowing ride, at one with the elements and ahead of the break.

We all end up on the beach anyway, but how we get there defines the quality of our lives.

The other side of enough

May 16, 2014
Do you want it all?

Do you want it all?

The more we have, the more we want, right?

Let’s face it, seeing our life as ‘good enough’ doesn’t cut it anymore. Perhaps it should, but it doesn’t.

But, paradoxically, we live in a culture where we’re expected to stifle our desire for more: money, things, achievement, success. Why is wanting more bad?

My mother was fond of saying ‘Enough is enough.’

What is enough? Who defines it? How do we know when we have it? If we have it, can we still want more? Do we really need it, or simply want it? If it’s a want, should we reject it as unnecessary? Or get it anyway?

A key to living with contentment is to realise the difference between needs and wants. If we allow our wants to take over our motivation, we begin to believe that they are indispensible needs. Then we may feel that we ‘need’ to acquire them at any cost: health, family, working crazy hours, dishonesty.

Such ‘needs’ are empty. Unfulfilling. A poison chalice.

If we come to see that wants can be wants and not needs, we can alter our perspective to one that offers more satisfaction with life. We can have what we need, and aspire to what we want, but in a balanced way that makes us happy.

To have something we want without the need to compromise on other important areas of our lives, free to enjoy it for what it is, without the need for self justification.

Perhaps that’s what the other side of ‘enough’ looks like?

Winner winner chicken dinner

April 23, 2014
Winners are grinners!

Winners are grinners!

Have you noticed how much more money is on offer these days from the various lotteries? When I was young it was several thousand, then hundred thousand and now millions. In the US the numbers are staggering, topping the hundreds of millions.

Most of us daydream about what we would do if we won ‘the big one’. What we would buy, where we would go, if we would give up work and what the good life would feel like. It’s a great fantasy, but whether you buy a ticket or not, it’s worth asking yourself what you actually would do if you had those resources.

Forget about all that money ruining your life, (yeah, sure) or the fact that you’re more likely to be crushed to death by a vending machine, struck by lightning or have a hit record than you are of winning the lottery. What if you did win? What if someone handed you that cheque? What would you do?

Even if you succumb to the temptation to travel first class around the world and buy a bunch of extremely expensive things, you’ll still be faced with the question, eventually, of what to do with the rest. You’ll have to decide whether you merely want to do well for yourself, or whether you actually want to make a difference in the world.

If you want to make a difference in the world, doing so isn’t lottery dependent. In fact, whatever your life’s purpose, it’s not lottery dependent. Whatever difference you can decisively make with $100 million, you can incrementally make with just a hundred dollars, or a thousand.

Unless you’re seriously worried about being crushed by a vending machine, then you shouldn’t fantasise too much over winning the lottery.

Instead, think about the resources you do have, and the real difference you can make today.

Does desire drive happiness?

April 11, 2014
What is our driver of happiness?

What is our driver of happiness?

Desire is the crucible that forges character because it creates conflict and overcoming that conflict leads to fulfilment and happiness.

If we want nothing, then nothing stands in our way. Desire puts our lives in motion. There may be no more important questions to ask of ourselves than what do we want from life? And have we achieved it? If not, why not? If so, what’s next?

It’s normal for us to desire what we don’t have. But desires need to be focused. If we have too many desires it’s difficult to pursue any one of them with conviction or dedication.

We need to learn to disregard the desire for unnecessary possessions or distracting experiences. This is not always easy. When we focus on only a few desires and work towards them, desires that are worthy of serious commitment, we’ll be happier and feel a sense of achievement.

The process of understanding what really matters will make us more committed and persistent. When confronted with new and overwhelming obstacles, in pursuit of something we can’t live without, we’re forced to change, adapt and look deeper into ourselves for some insight, passion or strength that will give us the resolve to keep going.

The inevitable consequence of this journey is conflict, both internal and external. No matter what change you want to make in your life there will be easier, more comfortable options that offer faster ‘results’. And no matter which direction you’re headed, someone won’t want you going there.

Focus your desires on what matters most, then put yourself in motion. Yes, there will be conflict. But there will be steady progress and enduring satisfaction as well.

Let’s do more of the things that make us happy

March 27, 2014
What makes you happy?

What makes you happy?

If you want to be happy, do more of the things that make you happy. Here are five tips to help you along the way.

Happiness lies in the journey

Seeking happiness for its own sake rarely works. Action toward significant goals makes us happy. While there’s a place for taking it easy, watching a movie and eating cake, easy pleasures will never excite us the way mastering a new skill or building something from scratch will.

And it’s not crossing the finish line that’s most rewarding; it’s anticipating achieving your goal. Working hard toward a goal, and making progress to the point of expecting a goal to be achieved, doesn’t just activate positive feelings, it provides focus and concentration, which can suppress negative emotions.

If you’re feeling depressed or worried, throw yourself into something you enjoy; it lifts your mood and provides a sense of satisfaction.

Money does buy happiness – to a point

Money does buy happiness, but only up to the point where it enables you to live comfortably. Beyond that, more cash doesn’t boost your well-being. But generosity brings a strong sense of satisfaction, so striking it rich could underwrite your happiness—if you were to use it to help and benefit others.

Happiness is good friends

To live a happy life, make strong personal relationships a priority. Friends are an excellent happiness tonic; they can be part confidant, psychologist, personal motivator, cheer squad and objective sounding board. Mostly they’re just great to be around, make us laugh and leave us feeling better for the experience. Good relationships are buffers against life’s inevitable speed bumps and setbacks.

Happiness is a personal value statement

If you aren’t living according to your values, you won’t be happy, no matter how much you’re achieving.

Some people aren’t sure what their values are. If you’re one of them, consider this question: Imagine you had the approval and support of everyone you know and had no financial constraints for the rest of your life. What would you then choose to do with your life?

Once you’ve answered, you can start taking steps toward your ideal vision of yourself. Remember it’s not necessarily achieving it now that will make you happy, it’s the confidence that you’re achieving something worthwhile and enjoying the journey. After all, the state of happiness is not really a state at all; it’s an ongoing personal experiment.

Happiness is relative

Whether or not we’re keeping up with the Joneses affects how happy we are. Some are more obsessed with status than others, but most are aware of how they’re doing in life relative to those around them. Comparison may be natural, but not always constructive, leading to status anxiety.

Happiness comes when we strive to achieve our goals for our reasons. Not to do things just because our friends, neighbours or advertising tell us to. We can be happy for other people’s success, and appreciate their choices, while following our own path.

Happiness is not the absence of pain

March 18, 2014
Happiness is about finding balance

Happiness is about finding balance

Happiness is not a panacea for escaping pain, avoiding setbacks or ignoring negativity. Happiness is not a shield that protects you from the buffeting of life. Happiness can provide you with resilience, balance and a positive perspective in dealing with the challenges of life.

A happiness outlook suggests you confront negative feelings without letting them overwhelm you. Many popular conceptions of happiness are misleading because they set people up for a struggle against reality. They don’t acknowledge that life is full of disappointment, personal challenges and pain. To live a full life we must open ourselves to a full range of emotions.

The goal isn’t to limit the range of our feelings. Negative feelings provide insight what we value and what we need to change: frustration, anger, grief and anxiety all provide valuable clues into ourselves.

Grief for the pain suffered by a loved one proves how much we value that person. Anxiety about a new job shows just how important performing well or making a positive impression means to us. Continued frustration with a situation may be the catalyst for us to make a change.

Dealing with these challenges will lead us to happiness and a more fulfilled life; the life that is right for us. There can be great satisfaction in overcoming life’s challenges. Often this will lead to greater levels of happiness than if we hadn’t faced challenges at all.

Does getting what you want bring lasting happiness?

March 11, 2014
Are you getting everything you want?

Are you getting everything you want?

Do you think you’d be happy for the rest of your life if you received a million dollars, secured the perfect job or met your ideal partner? Would happiness be lost forever if you lost your job, you lost your money or your partner left you?

The reality is that after a period of adjustment, in most circumstances, we’ll bounce back to our previous level of happiness, despite what happens to us.

Our adaptability works in two directions. Because we’re so adaptable we quickly get used to many of the accomplishments we strive for in life, such as landing the big job or owning the dream car, holiday house or diamond ring.

Soon after we reach a milestone we start to feel that something is missing. Our new level of success or achievement becomes our base line, our excitement and euphoria subside and we ask ‘What’s next?’ We recalibrate our lives so the exceptional quickly becomes the normal.

Such an approach keeps us tethered to the hedonic treadmill, chasing more, where happiness is always just out of reach, one toy or promotion away. It’s a never-ending cycle of ‘I’ll be happy when’.

It’s possible to get off the treadmill when we learn to be grateful for what we have and to enjoy it fully without feeling the need to push it aside to see what’s next. Sometimes striving is not as satisfying as being.

If you seek lasting happiness, focus on activities that are exciting, interesting and attention-absorbing; activities that inspire you. When you find a hobby, passion or vocation that makes you happy you may find you require less ‘stuff’ to fill the void.