Happiness Is My Jam

Most history books focus on the ideas of great thinkers, the bravery of warriors, the charity of saints and the creativity of artists. They have much to tell about the weaving and unravelling of social structures, about the rise and fall of empires, about the discovery and spread of technologies. Yet they say nothing about how all this influenced the happiness and suffering of individuals.” ~ Yuval Harari

I’ve been rereading Harari lately. I’ve also been reading “How Civil Wars Start” and a friend’s excellent novel in beta. Occasionally I work through a chapter of “Start With Why” as part of my business-focus. I never read any one thing exclusively these days for any length of time, no matter how good it is, because of (a) time constraints, (b) frivolity of mood, and (c) lack of disciplined focus.

That last one has plagued me for more than 50 years. Ask my grade school teachers.

But I don’t hate myself for it. I don’t deride my own lack of concentration and personal discipline and I don’t attempt to rein in my frivolities of mood that much. Why? I accept the person that I am, with all my strengths and faults. That’s the key to opening the door to finding happiness.

That sentence initially said “that’s the key to happiness,” but I realized how simplistic that was. You don’t get the key, open the door, and become happy. No, no, there’s a long road beyond the door. But I truly believe that unless you open the door you never start upon that road.

I started upon that road some 20 years ago, when I first invented my (quite simple) Quality of Life spreadsheet. I took the 10 aspects of life that mattered to me most and rated them on a 4-pt scale: lousy, needs improvement, good, or perfect. The spreadsheet totaled up those ten, turned them into a percentile and that told me how miserably happy I was at any given time. I’ve updated the spreadsheet every 3 months for two decades now. I have a snapshot in time of where I stand in my own elation. Any aspect that suffered a 2 or less would get intense focus for a while since that is the aspect of my life that was currently deficient, in my own eyes. I started 47.5% happy in the early 2000s and now I consistently rank 90% or better. Think of that as 9 good days out of every 10. I’m pretty happy.

But it took years to arrive, and a lot of subjective misery, once I found the key. Why?

Well, because happiness is ill-defined. Opening the door, knowing thyself, is only the first step. Both before and after finding what makes us tick, we seek to fill the voids within ourselves with expectations of happiness, whether our own or those ascribed to us by peers and media. Just knowing yourself isn’t enough; you also must learn to know what honestly does and doesn’t matter to you, subjectively.

Let me use myself, and the aspect of “growth,” as an example. I learned early on that I had a much higher than average IQ. I’m a pretty smart guy. The feedback I got after learning that went something like this: “The world should be your oyster. You should fly through school without effort. Gain diplomas. Easily be rich before you’re 40.”

There’s a lot wrong with those expectations, but I bought into them. Even though, subjectively, I didn’t like oysters, didn’t want to go to school, didn’t care about degrees, and never much wanted riches.

What? Who doesn’t want riches?!

That was always the feedback and, because I am a part of an interactive, interdependent society it took a long time to separate the expectations of others from my own expectations. My growth category stayed at a 1 or 2. But, eventually, I did separate my own expectations from the expectations of others and now my growth category scores a 3 or 4 (good or perfect) nearly every time. I am headed in the direction I love most.

Even I veer off course sometimes and find myself completely off my own path. One year ago, today, I ranked my “growth” as lousy (1), though I don’t remember why. Once you know yourself, though, be honest with yourself, every time.

Another important aspect of happiness, perhaps the most important, is to understand the difference between overall happiness and fleeting feelings. A person with a high level of personal happiness can experience great sadness, fear, anger, and jealousy with the same frequency as a person with a low level of personal happiness. Actually, more of it. How? A truly happy person does not avoid their own emotional responses but accepts them. I don’t avoid situations that could make me sad, fearful, angry, or envious, because all of those emotions are just as much a part of me as joy, courage, kindness, and contentment. I am wholly me.

I was a little surprised in rereading Harari – easily my favorite historian and thinker of modern times – that he had an entire chapter of “Sapiens” dedicated to human happiness (#19, towards the end). He reminded me of my own in-depth study of the same all those years ago, when I was seeking the key, opening the door, and starting that long journey. I hardly much think about it anymore, my own personal happiness, which is as good a sign as any that it is something I have already found.

After I started writing this, I looked up the most current World Happiness Report and was surprised to find it was released, for 2022, yesterday. I believe they call that serendipity. As it turns out, there was nothing there I needed for this piece, but at least now I have something else to read.

Like I needed something else to read.

But I will. Or I won’t. I won’t beat myself up for it. I accept my failings the same as my triumphs.

Procrastination, it seems, is also my jam. 😎

20 thoughts on “Happiness Is My Jam

    1. Thank you, Basilike! It may not surprise you to know that the countries with the highest degree of happiness are those that clear the way for it (with things like universal health care, stricter and sensible gun laws, better treatment of mental health) as opposed to countries that simply state “pursuit of happiness” in their preambles. It takes more than words to increase the level of happiness in a populace; it takes a collected people, and government, that cares.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It doesn’t surprise me at all, and I agree 100% with what you say. The pursuit of happiness may be fine as a term when talking about abstracts (or what happiness means personally to each person), but a strong framework like the one you describe is necessary.

        Have a great weekend!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Finland, who is #1 on the happiness report, has the highest suicide rate of the Nordic countries (ranked #38 in the world in that category). Their rate is higher than, say, Japan, Australia, or Canada, but lower than South Korea, Belgium, or the United States. I suppose any rate is too high, and worthy of consideration as to why, but it’s not as bad as we thought. As for rape, only Sweden (#7 on the HR) ranks in the top ten in the world in incidents of rape, but one article I read called their presence there “a good thing.” See, Sweden calls more encounters “rapes” than most, because they are so protective of human (in this case female) rights. 😉

        Like

  1. That’s a great analysis and a curious pastime. I’ve read that happiness doesn’t take its own temperature, but clearly that may not be true.
    I’m afraid I cannot commiserate. I’ve never been as unhappy as I am now. Still, it doesn’t matter. Die happy, die miserable, in the end you’re still dead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My good friend, I understand completely. There are factors that are beyond our control that can affect our level of happiness greatly, no matter what we feel inside. If my house burned down, my wife passed, or my city was being sieged by, say, Russian missiles, a lot of categories drop to 1 (or a new level 0) and there isn’t a damn bit of intense focus that can get them back quickly. Stay strong through this time and control the factors that you can, that matter to you most. There is no limit or end to happiness levels we can achieve but there is a ceiling (and floor) at any given time. Much love, my brother!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish I could just be happy instead of worrying incessantly about literally everything. As I always say, I’ve got a mind like a car crash. Luckily, I can find the humour in things most of the time:-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I was younger I was definitely like that; worrying all the time about everything, especially at night! Insomniac, I was. But, one day, I decided I had the power to fix that if I wanted to and then — voila! — just like magic, it changed over the next 20 years. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad you have a high IQ and was informed early. The more I read, the more convinced I become that I’m just an idiot who happens to read a lot. We all discussed Harri about 2 years ago…but it could be worth a re-read. What differentiates humanity is not tool making, but story telling. The ability to share stories, form bonds, and coalesce into groups strong enough to slaughter the tribe that doesn’t believe in “our story.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, that’s the biggest outtake. But there are many nuances I missed (or perhaps had forgotten). I was elated to rediscover that chapter on happiness, and to find that my favorite thinker also had the same philosophical understanding of personal well-being that I do. I think he probably has a pretty high IQ, too. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting that you say you have a lack of disciplined focus, and, fortunately, accept that it’s just part of who you are, and then devote a great deal of time to showing how you’ve been disciplined and focused when it comes to finding your own happiness. With your high IQ I’m sure you’re aware of the irony there, but it also illustrates how terms like “discipline” and “focus” don’t have fixed, specific definitions. Or rather that they express themselves differently in different people. Happiness varies from person to person. Some people I know are actually happy–or maybe a more apt term would be “comfortable”–when they’re unhappy. And even though it’s April 1st I’m not kidding about that.
    Since it’s April 1st though I’ll say marmalade is my jam.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose it could be suggested that my lack of focus and discipline is a day-to-day business, but my long-term goals stay consistent. Or, maybe, an unfocused mind is a sign of brilliance. In one of my favorite West Wing lines ever, Leo is talking to another member of the team when he says, about President Bartlett, “I’ve known him forty years, C.J. And all I can promise you is that on any given day there’s really no predicting what he’s going to choose to care about.” What I tell myself I will do tomorrow is entirely different than what will happen when tomorrow is today, I heard a man say once (just now, and that man was me). And as for the marmalade, all I can say about that is “gitchi-gitchi, ya-ya, da-da.” For whatever that’s worth.

      Liked by 1 person

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