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  • Robert Farago

The Key to Happiness?

It may not be where you expect

What is happiness? Now there’s a perplexing question! So let’s ask Perplexity AI.

Happiness is a positive and pleasant emotion that ranges from contentment to intense joy. It can be triggered by positive life experiences or thoughts, but sometimes it may arise from no obvious cause.

I’m not entirely happy with that explanation.

Yes, a warm cuddle, a white sand beach, puppies and ice cream. Sure, positive thinking, hard-won accomplishments and “being present.”

But what of happiness arising from “no obvious cause”? As airy fairy (a.k.a., spiritual) as it sounds, our large language model friend isn’t wrong.

Happiness has a way of sneaking up on us, seemingly out of nowhere. And disappearing just as fast.

So if we can’t entirely predict or consistently create happiness, how can we be happy?

Theoretically, if you control your thoughts you can be happy anywhere, up to and including New Jersey.

Practically, there are activities that dramatically and reliably increase our odds of experiencing happiness – especially but not exclusively motorcycling (even in New Jersey).

I reckon people who chase happiness for happiness’ sake are no more likely to find it than people who don’t. Maybe less.

They’re the sort of people who constantly wonder if they’re really happy. Am I content (experiencing an objective sense of well-being) or am I “truly” happy? Could I be happier?

It’s kinda like how some people think about orgasm. Happiness is always good, but is it good enough? Is it great? I want great!

God knows there are plenty of people - alive and dead - happy to satisfy our need to find “the key to happiness.”

"The pleasure which we most rarely experience gives us greatest delight." —Epictetus

Follow the Stoic’s advice and you’ll end up on the wrong end of a bungee cord, mistaking adrenaline for happiness.

A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit, and a violin. What else does a man need to be happy? - Albert Einstein

While Al’s perspective reflects his adopted country’s consumerism, and the aforementioned motorcycle certainly fits the bill, I’m not sure that’s the right path to happiness.

Oh wait.

"There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path" - Buddha

Dude! Very few of us have the mental strength to find an arduous journey – and that’s a pretty good a description of life – inherently happy-making.

I reckon happiness is most likely to appear when you’re on the right path. By that I mean when you’re being productive.

Depending how you pursue it, being productive is an inherently worthy goal. For yourself, your loved ones and society.

It may not make you happy, but happiness will find you within it. Perhaps when you least expect it.

For example, writing per se doesn’t make me happy. But I’m frequently satisfied as I write. At some point BOOM! I’ll experience a moment or two of happiness.

The same goes for raising children. Fixing a car. Cleaning a house. Commuting to work. Doing work.

At the end of the proverbial and literal day, “chasing” productivity is a hell of a lot easier than trying to be happy.

If you’re doing something productive and happiness doesn’t drop in now and then for a visit, chances are you’re doing the wrong thing.

That realization can arrive suddenly or gradually. The sense that, you know what? This thing that I’m doing all the time? It sucks. I’m never happy.

Feeding a family. Honoring a commitment. Serving a jail sentence. There are lots of reasons people live without happiness knocking on their door.

For those unhappy souls who are slaves to their circumstances, changing the way they think is their only shot at happiness. Embrace the suck? Pretty much.

For those with options, the prospect of change can be the dictionary definition of daunting. It’s “the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t” vs. “get thee behind me Satan.” Risk/reward.

As I approach the end of this post, there is a very real risk I missed a few typos (that I’ll fix for the online version). That will not make me happy.

Never mind. Ours is not question why. Ours is but to do or die. Well, do and die. Speaking of impermanence, here’s the simple truth about happiness…

Happiness is no more robust than a beautiful flower. It often arrives unbidden, and always leaves the same way. Look for it, but don’t look too hard. That is all.

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