Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pursue Your Goals... Happiness Will Follow

Another day, another article about happiness.

I suspect that the editors of the Wall Street Journal are thinking that perhaps today was not the best day to publish Shirley Wang’s long and excellent article on happiness. Link here.

Given what's happening in Japan and in world markets, it might have been better to have led the “Life and Culture” section with the soothsayer’s warning to Caesar: “Beware the Ides of March.”

Unless something very unexpected happens, this is not the last time you will be hearing that today, March 15, is the Ides of March.

Nonetheless, Wang’s article does most of the points that I mentioned yesterday in my post about “the meaning of life.” Link here.

While I was relying on the research done by The Longevity Project, her article refers to different researchers approaching the question from a very different angle.

It is good news that the two arrive at similar conclusions.

Most importantly, Wang distinguishes the happiness that comes from successfully completing purposeful activity from  the happiness that comes from having plain old fun.

Better yet, she explains the difference between what Aristotle called happiness, which seems to be better translated as “well-being” or contentment, and the more commonly used reference to hedonic pleasures.

True happiness comes more from completing projects successfully than from having thrilling or pleasurable experiences.

As the world of psychology is now being overtaken by happiness studies-- not, in itself, a bad thing-- one psychologist offers a wise recommendation: stop obsessing about being happy. As Wang summarizes it: “But there is such a thing as too much focus on happiness. Ruminating too much about oneself can become a vicious cycle.”

Another psychologist advised: “Quit sitting around worrying about yourself and get focused on your goals."

Purposeful activity directed toward accomplishing a goal will bring you more happiness than will introspective meditation on why you are not happy.


David Foster said...

In "A Preface to Paradise Lost," C S Lewis contrasts the characters of Adam and Satan, as developed in Milton’s work:

"Adam talks about God, the Forbidden tree, sleep, the difference between beast and man, his plans for the morrow, the stars and the angels. He discusses dreams and clouds, the sun, the moon, and the planets, the winds and the birds. He relates his own creation and celebrates the beauty and majesty of Eve…Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace ‘all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’ Satan has been in the heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan.. And that “one thing” is, of course, Satan himself…his position and the wrongs he believes have been done to him. “Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament…”

David Foster said...

On the topics of goals, happiness, and life in general, I strongly recommend Antoine de St-Exupery's book "Citadelle" (published in English under the unfortunate title "Wisdom of the Sands") It represents the musings of a fictional desert prince...St-Ex never got a chance to really finish it, since he was killed on a recon flight, but there's a lot there.

Unknown said...

Well put my good man.

Therapy Culture said...

Dualistic. Either you are "pursuing your goals" or you are "sitting around worrying."

There are people who do neither and are just fine.

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