Life is grasping happiness momentarily and then losing it because the sweet spot has shifted. Then we go on hiatus and take a look at life to decide where to redirect our focus. It’s a permanent cat-and-mouse game —where the mouse is the happiness— that makes life interesting. In my case, the prey recently got away from my paws, leading me to take a break from work.
The method of ‘travelling to put your life in perspective’ proved overused, the epiphanies were not happening anymore. Tokyo and Cebu were exciting but too comfortable, so I needed to step it up: This time I turned to Nanjing in China to meet a Spanish teacher who, a month ago, told me that she was considering becoming a farmer, based solely on the fact that taking care of her plants made her happy. At first I thought it was an insane train of thought (you don’t know what becoming a farmer entails!). But perhaps it wasn’t and she’s just outsmarting us all.
The general unawareness of the things that make us happy is striking, as society distorts our needs through marketing or peer pressure. I wrote down on a whiteboard the things I thought they would make me happy: Start a specific project on my own, study Korean, diet, go to the gym, and dedicate some allocated time to think about my professional future. I followed the schedule religiously for three weeks, only to barely achieve anything.
Yesterday I came across Austrian Stefan Sagmeister’s performance “The Happy Show“, and his preceding TEDTalk that originated from his mid-life crisis. After a long trip trying to find out what made him happy, he got to the point where instead of deducting what made him happy, he tried inducting it. In deductively valid reasoning, if the premises are all true (meditation helps), then the conclusion must be true (meditation will help me). In inductively strong reasoning, if all the premises are true (meditation helped me at a specific point of my life), then the conclusion is likely to be true (meditation is good).
He sat down and wrote down every moment or thing that made him deeply happy in order to try to find a pattern. 5 of the 15 things he listed down had to do with design. He ditched meditation, therapy and pills, the usual stuff people do after a mid-life crisis, and dedicated the following 7 years to designing furniture and artworks for museums among other things.
This method won’t be as cathartic for the general population as it was for him, but it deserves a go. And you should too. I looked into my past moments when I had that tingling deep feeling of happiness, and wrote them down:
- When I moved to a new city (first-year euphoria)
- When I had a stable relationship with my family.
- When I did things outside my comfort zone, especially whenever I pushed my mental limits as a deaf person.
- When I kept an open, naive, trusting attitude with everyone, without room for judgements or suspiciousness.
- When I biked as a mean of transportation
- When I gave love: Complimented, surprised, asked people how they are and listened, just for the pleasure of it without expecting anything in exchange.
- When I did something stupid and immature. Oh, the joy of it. (without hurting anybody)
- When I had an extremely minimalistic lifestyle. Making a living with the fewest things possible.
- When I hosted chaotic and eventful dinner/parties at home.
- When I read indie magazines
- When I researched the sociology behind the cultural differences
- When I wrote.
- When I had close friends at the workplace.
- When I was comfortable with my weight
- When I studied something on my own.
- When I kept expectations low.
Then I categorised them under three levels of happiness (also learnt from Stefan Sagmeister), to make sure the different depths of happiness are balanced:
- Joy, pleasure
- Satisfaction, well-being
- Fulfilling’s one potential
And then I made a new timetable. The similarities it has with the former one amount to zero. “Doing something stupid and immature” is scheduled this weekend.