I am reading The How of Happiness, and it seems to be an excellent book. Practical, simple, science-based and effective. I especially appreciate the emphasis on finding practices that fits ones own circumstances and interests (chapter 3), and the pointers on why the preactices work and advice on how to go about the practices (chapter 10).
It seems that these activities are an essential complement to – and support for – any other practice or activity in life.
Footnote: It is a couple of weeks later, and I am if possible even more impressed with the book.
As any good book, this one generated a lot of questions and reflection for me.
For instance, the author downplays efforts to change circumstances, perhaps to counterbalance a tendency to focus on changing circumstances and not how we relate to them. But circumstances can obviously have a huge impact on our life. One significant way they impact our life, is through making it far easier to engage in the activities suggested by the book (gratitude, kindness, engaged life) or making it very difficult. We can seek out circumstances that supports us in that way, such as religious or spiritual groups, and chose to not spend much time with people who do the reverse.
And the same with things. When I buy certain things, I am actually buying a long chain of experiences that can be very rewarding for me. For instance, buying my camera was enjoyable at the time, and using it continues to give me satisfaction. It helps me engage with life in a meaningful way. And that is the case with many of the things we can buy or acquire.
Another aspect here is the satisfaction curve. If I don’t have much material goods, even adding a little of the right things will increase my satisfaction. At some point, I don’t need that much more and I don’t get that much satisfaction out of it. And if I get too much, my satisfaction may even decrease through worries and the need for maintenance, protection, repairs and so on.
There are many more ways to make the picture more nuanced, and maybe more real for us.
For instance, it seems important to find happiness and satisfaction in most or all of the domains in our life, such as relationships, family, work, recreation, spirituality and so on.
And to more explicitly bring attention to how our life impacts others. How can I live my life that is more deeply rewarding and satisfying for myself, and also benefits those around me, the social and ecological whole, and even future generations? Finding meaning in that way is one way to also find a sense of contentment and joy in life.
It may also be helpful to differentiate happiness one the one side, as something that comes and goes, and a deeper sense of contentment, satisfaction and well-being that comes from living an engaged and meaningful life, aligned with my deepest and most honest values. I may be sad, but still experience a deep sense of contentment if my life is aligned with my values, and I live with integrity. It is easy to imagine that many of those helping the people of Haiti right now, after the horrible consequences of the earthquake, are experiencing a deep sadness for the suffering of the people there, and yet a deep contentment over being of service and being engaged in a meaningful way.
Also, what about finding a deeper and more sincere appreciation for an absence of happiness, and presence of emotions such as sadness and anger? All emotions have a function, in terms of evolution and in our own life. We wouldn’t be here if they were not part of our life, as a species and individuals. For instance, gloominess promotes critical thinking. And anger helps us act to change circumstances and get things done. Here too, we can find a deeper satisfaction even when sadness, anger and so on are more at the surface.