Friday, May 13, 2011

Happiness versus...? What Makes People Happy?

Happiness has come up three times in the last month for me.
Jason showed me this book he's reading about game development (unfortunately I don't remember the name). The concept of "flow" is included, where happiness is defined as a Zen-like state of doing a hard activity while simultaneously being meaningful. The author suggests that the opposite of happiness is boredom, i.e. activities that are too easy or useless.

The second definition came from my thorough recent readings of Penelope Trunk's blog archives. She suggests the opposite of happiness is interestingness, or perhaps instability. If you remember the quote, "May you live in interesting times," you'll know the reference is usually to a war or other stressful time in history. Killing Bin Laden, for example, is interesting. I doubt those people are happy about the job/circumstances/family security in the aftermath. Perhaps relief... not happiness.

The last definition was an article from Psychology Today titled, "Which Is More Important, Happiness or Truth?" The tacit assumption in this definition is that ignorance is bliss, citing the red and blue pills in the Matrix. Does the steak taste better if you don't know it's fake? The result of a study referenced in this article is that happiness and truth are kind of chicken and egg. One leads to another, and while unhappy people are less likely to seek the truth, understanding reality enables happiness.

Ok, so which is it?

In the show Mad Men, Peggy says to Don Draper, "You have everything, and you have so much of it." While Don is still struggling for an answer in Season 4 (I'm still catching up with DVDs), I have happiness defined for myself:
A wonderful husband who knows me and has so many wonderful qualities, I'm grateful that I met him. (Bragging just a bit, but after reading this article from Capitol Hill Style, I can't help but feeling like we were meant for each other).
Two hilarious cats.
Zoe and Kaylee, who "don't like each other."
Two technical degrees.
A job that gives me the flexibility of taking off if I need it.
A caring family (who constantly contacts me either with a card, email, or phone call every week).
Friends who give me energy.
Creative outlets like writing, gardening, and photography.
Enough money to take away problems involving basic needs.

Most of those things involved hard work and truth. There was also luck, which isn't given credit in the above definitions.

Interestingness is a hard sell, especially because "being considered weird" increases loneliness, which in turn increases sadness. However, growing up without money (and having to find interesting solutions to money problems) has made me and my sister closer, increasing happiness for me.

I don't know...

Just for the record, hot-long showers, filet mignon, and repeating Arrested Development quotes late at night has made me happy.