{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Fool’s errand

What do you need to achieve real, true happiness? What are you aspiring to?

This was the thought experiment proposed by SavingNinja. The one thing he asked of participants was for a stream of consciousness outpouring of thoughts rather than a carefully polished article. Here goes…

Race against boredom

Michael was a racer, who lived for driving fast. He dreamt of being the fastest.

His father built four-year-old Michael a homemade kart. By age 15 he had won a national title.

Years passed. Competition increased. Michael’s trophy cabinet expanded.

With each victory he experienced true happiness.

For a moment.

His focus immediately shifting to the next aspiration. The next race. The next title. The next thrill.

Eventually, he made it to the top flight. A green car unexpectedly needed a replacement driver, after the incumbent was briefly incarcerated for tear gassing a London cabbie.

Michael was living his dream. Racing the fastest cars against the world’s best drivers.

Two years later he drove a yellow car to his maiden victory.

Two years after that he won the driver’s championship in a blue car. A feat he repeated the next year.

Michael was fast. Talented. The best in the world.

There was only one problem: Michael was bored.

In search of new worlds to conquer, Michael decided to restore a once great team to its former glory. He started driving a famously underperforming red car.

This new endeavour took five long years. For a driver used to winning that was an eternity.

Assembling a talented team.

Curating behaviours and values into a functional working culture.

Establishing repeatable processes and systems that embedded continuous improvement, leading to eventual excellence.

Patience.

Persistence.

Innovation.

Repetition.

Refinement.

Reward.

They started to win. And win. And win.

A world championship. Then two. Three. Four. Five.

Jubilation amongst motorsport fans initially. Evolving to expectation. Before turning to dismay.

When one team dominates all the others for so long it makes for a boring show.

Predictability nullifies entertainment. Reducing crowds, sponsorships, and tv audiences.

Unable to beat the red car on the track, the sport changed the rules to negate their advantage.

Michael was hailed as the greatest driver of all time.

There was only one problem: Michael was bored.

He retired from doing the thing he had always thought would make him happy, and sought out challenges new: racing motorbikes.

Exhilarating speed and technology, but much greater risk.

Which was fun, until it wasn’t.

A big crash reminded Michael that at those speeds having a car chassis between body and crash barrier is a comforting safety blanket.

Michael came out of retirement for one last shot at glory, this time driving a silver car. It was hoped his hard-won experience and innate tenacity would offset his ageing reflexes.

His return was unsuccessful on the track. However, Michael’s team building skills and experience at playing the long game helped position the team for future success.

The silver cars did not win the championship during the three years before he retired once again.

The following year they started to win races, finishing second in the championship.

Then they won the title, and have continued winning every year since.

Michael’s post-retirement life was similarly well placed for happiness. Rich. Happily married. A proud parent.

There was only one problem: Michael was bored.

Too many chocolate biscuits

Happiness is an emotion.

It cannot be captured. Manufactured. Purchased. Or stored.

Happiness occurs spontaneously. An enjoyable moment. A funny joke. Time spent in good company.

It is transient and fleeting.

As Michael discovered, today’s source of ultimate happiness loses some of its lustre tomorrow.

The first chocolate biscuit tastes amazing. A party in your mouth.

A second biscuit tastes almost, but not quite, as good.

By the time you’ve had a third, the novelty is wearing off.

That fifth biscuit will give you a tummy ache. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Yet here is the thing: all the biscuits in the packet are identical. It is our appetites and perceptions that change.

We can’t ensure happiness will occur, but we can facilitate its appearance. We couldn’t have enjoyed that delicious first biscuit without first having bought the packet.

Beware the charlatans

It is often said, by those who have it, that money is an enabler not a goal.

Once your basic survival is no longer an issue, then the pursuit of money for its own sake is an empty and meaningless endeavour.

The goal isn’t the money.

The goal is the things the money allows you to do.

Enjoy a holiday.

Give a thoughtful gift.

Spend time with loved ones instead of commuting.

The active fund management industry is often criticised for charging vast sums to demonstrably reduce their client’s wealth. The “management” function being the transference of wealth from client to advisor.

An equally dubious industry exists around happiness. Charlatans and snake oil salesmen peddle easy answers, fortune cookie wisdom, and pithy sound bites.

Self-help books.

Life coaches.

Counselling.

Selling the promise of a feeling. An emotion.

Where is the store you can walk into and place this type of order: “I’d like a helping of contentment please, with a double shot of happiness and a twist of fulfilment”?

If happiness could be guaranteed or purchased, such a store would exist on every street corner.

Instead, we have coffee shops selling stimulation.

Clothing stores selling confidence and vanity.

Betting shops and churches selling hope.

Pubs and travel agents sell escapism.

Pawn shops selling second chances.

The fact is you can’t buy, dream, drink, eat, fuck, inhale, inject, invest, plan, or pray your way to happiness. That isn’t how it works.

Expectation management

The most consistently happy person I have ever met once told me that happiness is a choice.

She was a migrant far from home. Struggling to raise two young children on her own. Earning peanuts working for an unappreciative charity. Located more than a two-hour commute away, each way.

Most people would have given in, or given up. Swallowed their pride. Surrendered. Become one of society’s takers.

This lady wanted to set a good example.

To show her children the value of a strong work ethic. 

The importance of doing a good job while performing meaningful work

Despite the constant challenges she faced, this lady was forever smiling and often laughing.

What impressed me about her was that she was happy. Today. Now.

She wasn’t waiting for a lottery win or inheritance or redundancy.

She didn’t save all her living for the weekend or after work.

Instead, she consciously chose to enjoy every moment. Wherever she happened to be. As much as she could.

The secret appeared to be managing her own expectations.

Seeking joy in the everyday.

Doing more of the things she derived pleasure or value from, and less of the things she did not.

It was Darwinian in a way. Only the happiest of activities survive.

This was a constant process, not something that could ever be ticked off a ToDo list.

She had engineered a system for enabling happiness, in the same way Michael had established a repeatable formula for creating winning racing cars.

Elderly couple. Image credit: MabelAmber.

Happiness is in the moments, not the marriage. Image credit: MabelAmber.

That got me thinking about happiness. Consider a common experience that people often believe they find happiness in.

Getting married makes people happy. A memorable celebration shared with loved ones. A single, one-off event.

Being married makes few people happy. Marriage is an institution. A legal state of being.

Married folks may find happiness in specific moments spent in each others company. However, it is the experiences and the shared moments where happiness is found. Not the institution itself.

Fool’s errand

I reject the premise of SavingNinja’s thought experiment.

Michael was able to design a single “perfect” day, where he would experience true happiness. However, he discovered that an endless series of perfect days quickly becomes commonplace.

Then boring.

The lady from the charity learned that contentment comes from within, via expectation management. Master that, and happiness can be found anywhere.

Attempting to design “real, true happiness” is a fool’s errand, like chasing rainbows.

The goal should be designing a sustainable system of behaviours, expectations, and values that enable happiness.

Michael created a system for building winning racing teams. The teams who used it have won a dozen world championships.

All those winning drivers look pretty happy, while spraying champagne from the top step of the podium.

What are you waiting for?


To hear some alternative points of view check out the other responses to SavingNinja’s thought experiment:


References


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4 Comments

  1. SavingNinja 15 August 2019

    An excellent read as always Indeedably. Although I would have liked to hear what your own personal ideal variables for enabling happiness would be! 🙂

    I really like your chocolate biscuit analogy.

    I like the idea of happiness being a choice, no matter your situation. Although this thought seeds onto the notion that even if you have the perfect situation, you can still be unhappy, which I don’t like. I know it’s of course true, but I don’t like it nonetheless 😀

    I like to think that with the perfect situation my base happiness and sustained maximum happiness will be much higher than in a lesser situation. If this wasn’t the case, there would almost be no joy in striving towards your ‘goal’.

    Of course, saying that there would be no point if it wasn’t true, doesn’t make it true. It’s almost like when a follower of faith saying to an atheist “Why would you want to not believe in the afterlife, it’s an awfully depressing thing to believe in.”

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 15 August 2019

      Thanks SavingNinja, there is a lot to think about there.

      Happiness is certainly a choice. We may not be able to summon it on demand, but our own outlook and context and perspective have a great deal of impact on how we interpret and react to a given situation. The same could be said of stress, that too is something we choose for the most part.

      I challenge your premise that there is a scale of happiness, with an absolute maximum at one end and a base happiness at the other. I don’t think it works that way.

      For mine, I think happiness is spontaneous, a feeling you catch yourself experiencing. We can strive to experience it often, but it doesn’t have a reproducible recipe. Michael being awarded the trophy on the top step of the podium was a moment of happiness. It quickly passes, giving way to the realities of press conferences, getting to the airport in time for his flight home, or what he might like for dinner.

      In your life the example might be landing a great sounding job, or successfully asking a pretty girl on a date. An hour later you are probably still feeling pretty good. However, by the next morning you’ve moved on, already thinking about the next thing.

      That is why there is no such thing as “true ultimate happiness” or the “perfect situation”. Such feelings exist but for a moment, and are gone. Happiness is a moving target, which is why it is so important to enjoy the journey.

  2. Renae 19 August 2019

    I wonder if it is elation we’re talking about, when we describe a fleeting high?
    Instead of happiness, how about satisfaction with contentment? Satisfaction conjures up the feeling of something effortful that has been well done, whilst contentment is a combination of expectation management and mindful awareness/deep sense of the present moment.
    I do think the Buddhists are on to something when they talk about the single cause of happiness being a calm and peaceful mind, that is unrelated to external circumstances. When I first heard this concept, I thought it was an all-or-nothing proposal- either you were some zen master, or scrabbling around in the mire of suffering over-involvement in our own emotions. But having walked Camino twice, my experience is that a calm and peaceful mind is on a continuum, with benefits at every step taken in the direction of understanding our own mind. My own experience of the bliss of a calm, peaceful and compassionate mind, leads me to understand that this true happiness is available at all times, merely obscured by the various distractions, irritations and delusions we load ourselves up with, believing that those things are a true source of happiness. If I could gift this experience to everyone I have met, I would, but unfortunately the only way seems to be through a meditative process. Or walk a reeaally long way across Spain…

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 19 August 2019

      Thanks for sharing this very insightful comment Renae.

      I too enjoy the calm that can be discovered from long solitary walks or watching large bodies of water. It is both restorative and revealing process in a way, seemingly complicated and jumbled thoughts untie themselves without conscious effort.

      I think this may be similar to what some folks describe getting out of meditation.

      Personally, satisfaction can be found from a job well done. Submitting a university assignment or a deliverable to a client for example, or watching as one of my kids worked hard to overcome a learning difficulty.

      However, to me that is subtly different to contentment. The deliverable could have been satisfyingly high quality work, giving the client what they were adamant they wanted.

      Yet it may be doing exactly the wrong thing, prolonging or persisting a problem rather than solving it. I derive no contentment from such an outcome, but long ago learned you can provide the best advice in the world, but can’t make the client listen.

      You’re absolutely right about happiness being driven more by internal expectations management than externally sourced validation.

      As for elation, to me that is more of a simple but fleeting chemical reaction. Endorphins after crossing the finishing line. A hit of adrenaline when we survive a near miss. The brief afterglow following an orgasm. That high provided by the first taste of a chocolate bar.

What say you?

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