May 17

Happiness: Quotes from the Experts

I use the term happiness to refer to the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile. Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, on finding happiness

Finding happiness is a preoccupation for many. The following quotes from various authors and experts may help point you in the right direction.

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.

Matthieu RicardHappinessHappiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find themselves. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.

Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? in an interview with Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic: On the one hand, we are hard-wired to focus more on negative things. But at the same time, we are also all hard-wired to be seeking a sense of happiness and the desire to flourish, and to be the best we can be. Ultimately, what we need in order to be happy is at some level pretty simple. It requires doing something that you find meaningful, that you can kind of get lost in on a daily basis.

Paul Dolan, Happiness By Design: Change what you do, not how you think. You are what you do, your happiness is what you attend to, and you should attend to what makes you and those whom you care about happy.

David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence: Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness ProjectThe belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: To be sure, most of us do become happier at some point during our lives. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, people actually get happier with age.

Daniel M. Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness: We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

Sep 18

“Happiness by Design” (And Via Actions): By Paul Dolan

[We] generally pay more attention to what we think should make us happy rather than focusing on what actually does. Paul Dolan, Happiness by Design

From the book description of British professor Paul Dolan‘s new Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think: “In Happiness by Design, happiness and behavior expert Paul Dolan combines the latest insights from economics and psychology to illustrate that in order to be happy we must behave happy. Our happiness is experiences of both pleasure and purpose over time and it depends on what we actually pay attention to. Using what Dolan calls deciding, designing, and doing, we can overcome the biases that make us miserable and redesign our environments to make it easier to experience happiness, fulfilment, and even health.

Richard Godwin, Standard, describes Dolan’s “Pleasure Purpose Principle”: “We need to balance both pleasure and purpose to experience happiness. It explains why we ‘solve’ a crappy day at work (purpose) with an evening in front of the TV (pleasure). However, when pleasure has no purpose, that doesn’t make us happy either — which is why we’ll often choose to watch some worthy documentary over a silly romcom. Likewise, if there is no pleasure in our purpose — for example, if we’re working on something that we know is a pointless waste of time — it makes us unhappy.”

So how exactly do we get happiness? What we need to do is put our attention on it, says Dolan. As quoted by Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, attention “acts as a production process that converts stimuli into happiness.”

“What you attend to drives your behaviour and it determines your happiness. Attention is the glue that holds your life together,” is another quote, courtesy of Rowan Pelling, Telegraph. Unfortunately, says Pelling, “we tend to squander it on social media, petty worries and unprofitable goals.”

Burkeman explains this attention theory further:

…(I)t explains how the ‘tram-tracks’ of habit and ingrained thinking, along with various cognitive biases, sabotage us, by directing our attention to the wrong things. We eat unhealthy food because it’s there. (The proximity of a school to a fast-food restaurant is correlated with obesity among pupils.) Or we lose touch with valued friends because it’s easier to watch the TV. We focus on the happiness we’d get from a bigger house – only to find, once we’ve moved, that the misery of the increased commute outweighs the benefits. Students choosing between universities subconsciously notice whether it is rainy or sunny on open days, and let it influence their decisions. More generally, we pay attention to what we think ought to make us happy – to our lofty judgments about a ‘meaningful life’ – instead of moment-to-moment feedback about which activities actually bring us feelings of pleasure or purpose.

A summary of ten lessons from the book, as reported by Godwin:

  1. Your attention is a scarce resource. Use it wisely.
  2. All work and no play leads to regret.
  3. Future happiness does not compensate for present misery…
  4. …But do consider the present benefits of future decisions.
  5. Change your environment. “For example, if you really want to leave your job, change the password on your office computer to ‘getthehelloutofhere’.”
  6. Making decisions is difficult. Seek help.
  7. Don’t think about the weather. “Weather doesn’t have that much effect in itself if you don’t think it does.”
  8. Minimise distractions.
  9. Surround yourself with people who increase your happiness…
  10. …But do not compare yourself too much with people around you.