"Our pursuit of [happiness] can be a never-ending process of flourishing and growth; there is no limit to how much happiness we can obtain."
- Tal Ben-Shahar
So, life has gone a bit crazy lately. With my college classes moved online, an extra, quiet week of spring break, and a strange tension about the air, I'm embarking into unknown territory--my busy, packed days have come to a halt.
As a homebody and someone who is perfectly okay with lounging about, I originally was okay with all of this.
But now, I've found that I've grown restless. During the first few days of trying to stay inside my unusually silent apartment, I felt a sharp absence of my usual creative energy and happy, excited persona. I've slowly become bored.
And after reading Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, I now know why.
This book was actually given to me by a friend and proceeded to reside on my book cart for quite some time. Until recently, when I was craving a self-help book, I picked it up, and it sucked me right in.
It was the perfect book to read at the most perfect time.
In the book, Tal explains that there are four types of people: the rat-racer, the hedonist, the nihilist, and the happy person.
The rat-racers are those who are only focused on the future and they do as much as they can as often as they can. They believe that happiness is derived from productivity and overall success in life. They date to get married. They work to buy a big house or move their way up the company. They make art to make a profit from the art. And to them, this is happiness.
The hedonists are too focused on the present moment. They're the self-care advocates and the slow-movers who are always finding what feels good. They are often found lounging on the couch with a glass of wine, taking a three-hour bubble bath, or taking off work to enjoy a brunch with friends. They do everything they can to make each moment feel good and often mistake pleasure for happiness.
The nihilists are the people who have given up. They don't care about happiness, nor the happiness of anyone else, and they believe that life is just one, long journey to the end. They fall into depression, never leave the jobs they hate, date people they don't really like, and spend hours watching movies that bore them. They are also caught up in the past and can't seem to let the hurt go. They may seem happy on the outside, but they're struggling to find purpose on the inside.
Then, there are happy people. The ideal people. They are the ones who not only make each moment count but do so by engaging in activities that both excite them and benefit them. They don't eat cake because it tastes good and because they "deserve it"; they eat the nutritious, yummy salad that'll benefit them now and later.
According to Tal, happy people focus on the present as well as the future, balancing the two until they have created a harmonious, purposeful life.
Of course, this doesn't always seem possible. While writing blogs both benefit me now and later, as I enjoy writing them and they also help me grow as a writer, I can't always be writing blogs. I can't always be doing yoga or cooking or doing things that I enjoy. Sometimes I have work or class, or I'm stuck in my apartment with anxious thoughts crowding my mind.
Yet, it's important to find what feels good in the things that both bore us and benefit us. According to Tal, "to be happy, we need to identify and pursue goals that are both pleasurable and meaningful."
The thing is, I thought I was doing this. But as I've taken note of my thoughts, I've come to realize why I feel empty inside, and why happiness and joy seem so distant in this time.
My younger self would have loved to wake up late, play animal crossing or world of warcraft all day, and have a valid excuse to stay in. My younger self would have loved to snuggle in bed and read or write for hours on end.
But now, as someone who mistakes racing around for happiness, I can't seem to find meaning in lounging about.
When beginning Happier, I felt assured that I was an overall happy person. Yet now, I've come to find that I associate my happiness with not only productivity but how busy my day is. The loudness and the chaos and the piled-up work give me an excuse to come home and therefore become a hedonist. I then associate happiness with a cup of tea and a glimmer of silence and tidy space and a long bath.
And while these things do, in fact, make you happy, you may not stay happy in the long run. The warm candle and the snuggled cat may give you a sense of temporary pleasure, as will checking off your to-do list at the end of the day, but when you're suddenly faced with a quiet mind and an empty planner, the cozy barriers will come tumbling down.
At least, this is what I've faced.
In my recent post, The key to finding balance in each day, I talk about how important it is to find what feels good in each moment. While that's still the case, this book has persuaded me to expand my assumptions on balance and happiness.
It begins and ends with the mindset.
When we depend on certain things for our happiness, we may feel empty and incomplete without them. If we look forward to the end of our day, our weekend, our summer to indulge in happy pleasures, then we are missing what is going on now. But if we're too focused on the now, we may miss things that are presenting themselves right in front of us. We may be setting our future self up for failure by indulging in unhealthy foods or toxic relationships.
We must find a balance between productivity and pleasure.
There's a theory of my own that I came up with in high school to help me heal from breakups:
The Hole Theory.
In this theory, I deciphered that everyone has a single hole right in the center of their chest. It is the only part of themselves that is not them. They can choose to fill it with whatever they'd like; relationships, exercise, alcohol, pets, family, work, etc. However, if they choose material things, they may end up dependent on these things.
Without them, they'll end up with a hole once again, unsure of what to do with a part of them missing.
On the other hand, they can choose to fill the hole the hobbies and activities that fuel them. They can replace the material things with moments, engaging hobbies, and things that make them happy within.
I hope this is all making sense, as this post is a bit of a ramble, aha.
But as I sit here, settled in my bedroom with my warm coffee and lavender oils and my windows half-open, allowing the cool breeze to blow through the individual strands of my hair, I see that the only way we can be happy is if we shift our focus onto the good of every moment, every achievement.
To be a happy person, we must slow down and appreciate the wonders of each day while also applying ourselves and actively doing what we love.
And as this may seem challenging to do so--to consistently work toward being our absolute best selves--it is the key to a happy life, according to Tal.
I could easily look at this moment and think negatively about it. I could reach out to material things, depend on toxic self-care habits, work myself to death in order to remain productive and experience a sense of self-worth.
Or, I can appreciate this very moment and simply, write.
When you find yourself feeling distressed, anxious, or even hollow, first remind yourself that it's okay to feel that way--it's okay to be human. It's okay to, at times, feel like a rat-racer, a hedonist, as well as a nihilist. Tal even reminds the reader of this again and again.
But, when you shift your focus, meditate on how you feel and allow good-feeling thoughts, you will not be dependent on anyone else for the way you feel. You can, just for once, rest in the warm fuzz that is your internal happiness.
I found the book Happier an intriguing and interesting book, pakced-full of many concepts. I once thought I knew everything about happiness (and really, I'm still far from it), but I can see now that happiness is complicated and can only truly be experienced by the person themselves.
I'm glad this book shined a light on the idea that one doesn't need to go far to be happy. By simply reminding ourselves to shift our thoughts and find what both excites us and benefits us, which the reader works to find through activities in the book, we can easily find happiness in every situation.
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I do hope this post helped you in some way. With so much yet so little going on, I've found it difficult to find creative ideas, as most of them come from personal experiences.
But this experience is personal enough.
Rather than feeling bored, empty, or unproductive, I can get to work. I can write this post. I can brew some yummy coffee and enjoy its momentary pleasure. I can reach out to my family and friends and send them my love in this strange, noisy time.
And so can you!
What is your definition of happiness? Let me know below!
Probably resting, and enjoying every bit of it,