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Happiness vs Self-Improvement


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Are you happy with your life today? Or are you still looking for happiness?


What would you choose to do right now or pursue in your life regardless of whether you'd be happy or unhappy while doing it or as a consequence of doing it?


What I'm going to write is a rapid over-simplification of decades of empirical psychological research (using my own words) and my personal thoughts about the results.


It seems that all human beings look for happiness in their lives. Some have it all the time, others seem to work their whole lives on something in order to obtain it. For instance, most people look for it in personal wealth (either inherited or earned) or by obtaining other great things they strive for, in their careers and personal development.


Most people measure their happiness relatively to the well-being of other people. e.g. most of us (in the western world) can be happy about our life condition when we compare our daily lives with those of people living in third world countries, starving children and AIDS-infected people in Africa.

This sense of thankfulness is quickly subdued when we think about those who are richer than us, have 20 private jets and can afford nearly anything money can (or, if we are already rich, people who have more than us in general).


A few people are capable of finding happiness in all the small things of their daily lives, regardless of their social status and ambition. Happiness is everywhere!




As a matter of fact, human beings are able to decide to be happy about nearly anything in their life. I can just stop typing and look at this wonderful laptop I bought and think about how nice it is. Or look outside the window and, even if it's cloudy and stormy, think about how vast nature is, and be happy about it. And be thankful of everything. Anyone of us can!

And it is indeed true happiness, with many real consequences on our overall mood, our behavior, our relationship with others, our overall "luck". I've tried it. I spend a few hours every day just to connect with nature or my surroundings and contemplate life with bliss... actually, I could doze around like that for infinity (no, I don't smoke any strange substances!).


But then I personally wonder... is Happiness ("being happy") really our final goal in life? Couldn't it actually be a consequence, a side-effect, or a means, to other things we like to pursue?


It is generally viewed as unhealthy to be "unhappy". In the long term, unhappiness can cause many problems, from merely psychological to psysiological (they're all connected systems in the end, brain, heart, immune system, etc.) including death. That's why many mental health experts from all possible subfields of psychology and natural sciences suggest people to be happy at any cost.


But what many people do when they start being happy is they abandon things they were pursuing, sometimes their entire career, especially investment bankers. This reveals, in my opinion, that pure happiness is indeed more important to people than a merely profit-oriented career.

However, I believe that there are things that are more important to us than happiness.


I would like to ask you the following:

What would you choose to do right now or pursue in your life regardless of whether you'd be happy or unhappy while doing it or as a consequence of doing it?


My personal conclusion is that there are things we want to do even if it won't give us any happiness (neither immediate nor expected happiness).


However, since we can consciously decide when and where to be happy why can't we decide to be happy while doing the things we pursue?


I, for instance, am happy when I improve myself, challenge myself, learn something new, travel around the world and get to know many new people. Isn't this joy of challenge, or, more commonly, passion, stronger than mere Happiness?

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I would think happiness may be a state of mind where your reality meets your ideals. Thus happiness would depend on two things: 1. What you would find contempt in - whether it is on a materialistic level (in this capitalist day and age most of us define happiness in this category eg. House cars women status fame etc etc), or deeper levels; and 2. How ur reality matches this.


It would also depend on your perfectionist tendencies. For some people, they would not be happy unless all their ideals are met, while for others somewhere close enough would do. How close to your ideals is a matter that would be different for everyone.


Suffering on the other hand, would be the process of putting effort to strive for bridging your ideals and reality. That is, the pain - physical, psychological, philosophical etc, you put yourself through in order to achieve a level of contempt that you can stop and say, "I'm truly happy".


Thus if this assumption of what happiness holds, we may extrapolate and consider different types of people:

- Some people are never happy because they do not have their own ideals - they want what everyone else wants - which would be the same as wanting what the popular culture demands - beauty, success, etc. Hence these people would by definition live in a state of perpetual suffering.

- Some people set low standards for themselves and thus their goals are easily met. One should think they would be perpetually happy, except that their ideals conflict that of societal judgment, and thus this conflict would create angst and thus they too would be unhappy.


Bottom line, is that to achieve true happiness one needs to have a set of ideals that is acceptable by societal standards, but in which he/she could aim for and achieve for him/herself. Hence self improvement would be seen as a means of achieving happiness, but it would not be as simple as that, for the reason described above.

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Wow...these two posts are very thought provoking. I do agree with what both are saying. I didn't quite understand Busy's question...why would someone want to pursue something that wouldn't make them happy either doing it or as a consequence of doing it. The only time people do that is when they have to do something out of obligation. I have known people who actually derive happiness from being unhappy because it is a way to create drama.


I, for instance, am happy when I improve myself, challenge myself, learn something new, travel around the world and get to know many new people. Isn't this joy of challenge, or, more commonly, passion, stronger than mere Happiness?


I agree with this. I am like that.


The whole shocking Natasha Richardson death puts everything into perspective...you have to live life to its fullest and be happy and content with your life as you are living it...not look over your shoulders at others or say that only when I reach "x' milestone such as marriage, children, retirement etc will I be content. One never knows how much time we have left to live and even extreme wealth and popularity doesn't make you exempt from suffering and death.

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I am very happy with my life. I realised long ago that my search for happiness was futile...a total waste of time because happiness dwells within in my soul all along. No one else can really makes us enjoy this life but us.Its our choice to stop and appreciate the nice breeze on our face..or enjoy that warmth from the sun.Unfortunately in the pursuit of material wealth too many people lose touch with enjoying every moment...this is our finest moment and I move forward...with a gentle soul and warm smile on my lips..with good intent..For me it doesnt get much better than living in the moment and thank god

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I am getting happier with my life as I start to build friendships and build some self esteem. I'm not quite there yet as most of this takes place at work or when I'm out with others, as opposed to at home. But I'm working on that, starting to build connections and find new people to get to know. Torn between wanting to be alone and wanting conversation and interaction with people. (explains being on ENA I guess)


Unfortunately there are other factors that I need to deal with that weigh heavily on my mind and tend to take away from that happiness. (relationship needs to end, earning 30% less than my peers) So I sort of can't maintain the happy feeling for long. I'm good while at work and being social, or at the gym, but when I get home, the negative thoughts take over. Al lthe stuff I want in life and am frustrated that I am not making progress towards.


I am the "perfectionist sufferer" I think, but not in everythng in my life. Only in certain areas, maybe what keeps me from being depressed? I have areas I'm content, and areas I'm feeling an aching void.

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