Just had a great conversation with my friend, Ajit Verghese, an excellent startup consultant, about the decisions involved in being happy.
Ajit was mentioning how so often we materialize our objectives so that we can gain a firmer grasp of them, see them more clearly in our heads: to be happy, I’ll need x dollars or y position or z degree. The problem is that by materializing the goal, it becomes more definite but it also becomes finite. So when the goal is achieved, you’re left wondering what’s next.
I’m convinced there are three elements of the state of being happy, and the trick is choosing to keep them all present, all the time:
- You’ve decided on a target, where you want to be. This is essential.
- But more than that, you’ve convinced yourself that it’s something that you genuinely, even desperately, want. It can’t just be something that’s easy or not thrilling or won’t change your life. You’ve decided that if you hit that target, everything will change.
- You know you’re on the right path to achieving that target. The time it takes to get there doesn’t matter; it just matters that you feel progress toward the target in a short enough time frame to be satisfying.
The key, really, is staying on element 3 as long as possible, since the chase (as long it meaningfully progresses) is the most satisfying part.
And one way to do that is to constantly shift element 1, so that before you hit the initial target you have a new one.
The rub is number 2: when you’re constantly shifting targets, it’s harder to convince yourself that each one is all that important. After all, you achieved the last one, and you’re still not experiencing that “life changing” sensation (I don’t believe anyone 100% recognizes, in the moment, a life changing moment; it’s usually after the fact).
This is all to say that goal-setting, which I think is crucial to direction and purpose in life and therefore to happiness, is a difficult balancing game. You want to set exciting goals that inspire you but that won’t let you down once achieved. I haven’t experienced this yet, but many seem to feel this way about financial goals: the fun was the chase, not the achievement. Steven Covey argues for principles as goals: living according to those principles is the target, and Benjamin Franklin-like, you should treat each day as an attempt to more perfectly do so.
I’d like to say that’s my satisfying conclusion, but the reality is I’m still targeting a few material things to keep me going.
In the interim, below is a calming picture of happiness from Austin: