Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

What Is Happiness?

“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

Brilliant writing and perfectly delivered. I’ve been thinking a lot, of late, about “happiness.” In particular, is not happiness simply a willingness to accept contentment? we’re happy in a moment, there’s nothing else worth pursuing, because to pursue something more, is to give up the happiness we have.

Google, “how to be happy.” You’ll find no shortage of results. One of the most referenced answers to that question is the book “The 9 Choices of Happy People”, by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks. The first choice is, to recognize that “intention is the active desire and commitment to be happy.” Simply put, you must the “decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness over unhappiness.” If you will, being happy, is a choice. We can choose to be happy, or we can choose not to.

I don’t know if I buy that. It feels more akin to the famed “Serenity Now” Seinfeld episode from 1997. In it, George’s dad, is advised to say, “serenity now” ever time his blood pressure starts to boil. It’s a way to control the anger, let it go and in essence, choose to be happy. Of course, it only works temporarily, because you can only suppress a feeling for so long, before it bubbles to the top and one’s true feelings are expressed.

But, I feel that’s a surface level analysis of happiness. What’s had my brain working over time is the notion that perhaps part of the reason for a lack of happiness is we’ve never truly learned or been taught, how to be happy.

What if happiness, were a skill, in the same way that learning to sail, fly a kite or play a guitar, were a skill. What if you could teach people to be happy. If happiness were a teachable skill, we could be measured on our ability to achieve happiness, in the same way we evaluate someone’s proficiency in learning Spanish.

But, if it were a teachable skill, it would also be an optional skill. For example, I have no interest in learning to surf, but you might. I’m no more, nor less an individual for not wanting to learn.

If we take the Don Draper speech at face value, happiness is actually a bad thing. It leads to complacency. It makes us comfortable and in doing so makes us vulnerable to someone else who’s not complacent…not content.

Draper on Happiness

To be clear, there’s a massive difference between things that make us happy and having happiness. A single thing, statement or look can make us happy. But, happiness is the state of being happy. And, that, is a critical distinction. Happiness is about being perpetually happy. Is that possible? Should it be aspirational? I don’t know, but I tend to think no.

The happiest people I know have never achieved happiness. They just aren’t wired that way. They’re constantly chasing the next thing that makes them happy. It’s the journey, not the destination. The destination will never be reached. I tend to find a closer kinship with these people than those who claim be in a state of happiness.

If you find me in your Fantasy Football League, you’ll hate me. I’m never satisfied with my team. I’m constantly tinkering with it…looking to trade something for something else. Each successful trade makes me happy. But, I have no idea what the final team configuration should be, thus happiness is not remotely possible.

I certainly have more questions than I do answers. But, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe:

  1. Happiness shouldn’t be an end goal
  2. Happiness can’t be taught, but you can be wired to simply not sweat the small stuff (aka serenity now)
  3. There’s greater satisfaction in starting from a moment of no happiness and then achieving a temporary state of happiness, than there is in simple being in a constant state of happiness

For such a high interest topic, there’s little to no resources that address if happiness is a skill that can learned and if so, how do you teach it. There’s no shortage of self help books that explain happiness is a choice…as if, you can flip a switch and instantly go from whatever state of mind you’re currently in to a zen like state of happiness. Perhaps, if that were true, we wouldn’t need the books.