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A researcher on how to live a happy life (ox.ac.uk)
365 points by neoplatonian 86 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 198 comments



For me, I have become happier in the moment via insight meditation, which focuses on noticing thoughts and feelings without action or reaction.

Part of the wisdom of meditation lies in the following: There is baggage we all carry, the self, this belief we're the center of it all, the author of (and subservient to) our own thoughts. How do I stop doing what makes me unhappy, if that's "who I am"? But, in reality, I can abandon "who I am" and find new processes of living and new ways of thinking about the world.

In practice, this resetting of your mind is achieved without training by various psychdelic drugs, which peel back the layers of the onion in an effortless fashion. In meditation, you train your mind to actually pay close attention, eventually achieving an effortless open-ness that drugs achieve very simply. Once you're good at following your breath, you can turn to thoughts and feelings, recognizing them as mere arisings in consciousness.

Mere arisings in the mind do not require response: there's no need to act upon our desires, urges, distraction, and regular patterns, they are just heuristics or mental shortcuts the brain uses over and over to save time/effort of decision making. Do we have to respond to all our noticing sounds, light, smells? If not, why do we have to respond to negative thoughts?

Negative thoughts may become crystallized into negative actions. However, if you know what behaviors of your own contribute to unhappiness, you can always pause for 10-15 seconds, meditate briefly, drawing upon your training of the brain's meditative ability, and you will notice the actual feeling of the urge to behave, and not act upon it. It will disappear like very other appearance in consciousness.


This. I have recently discovered after many years that I have fear thoughts and laziness antithoughts that convert into anxiety and fear and sometimes indignation. Its a mine field out there in a mind. Mental health is as much work as keeping up with fitness/gym routine.


Very insightful. Please share more.

I’ve been taking up meditation and bubiddism but still very much a novice. I find that as you open your mind and see through more things, in a way things gets less interesting. It’s that feeling that you’ve seen this movie before. Maybe this is normal for older people but I’m in my 20s and it feels very odd.

How do you deal with that and not feel like a zombie.


It's often referred to as mindfulness, and it falls under cognitive behavioral therapy. I've had trouble finding useful links, so I'll repeat the practical info I was taught.

Pretend your active focus or attention is like a fishing line. Pick a single thing, usually a physical object like a tree, and "cast" your focus onto that. Focus on specific parts of the tree, the bark, leaves, how the wind moves through it, how it makes you feel, etc. This will cause your attention to wander. Being aware that this is happening is crucial. "Reel" your attention back in and focus on just the tree again. Repeat this for roughly 15 minutes, at least once per day. If you can only manage 5 minutes at first, that's still a great start.

You are effectively training your brain to be aware of it's own attention. The idea is not to prevent wandering or emotions, but to be mindful of how those thoughts got there, and what you are thinking and feeling. In essence, how could you possibly control your thoughts if you aren't even aware of them?

Your zombie comment was something I was worried about at first. Spoiler: you're still free to act on those emotions or thoughts, but now with undivided attention!


Mindfulness is not CBT, it has been integrated into it. CBT normally works in the thought, emotional or behavioral level.

Mindfulness reconditions the subconscious conditioned level in which thoughts and emotions lead to automatic behavior (i.e. conditioned behavior).

It’s subconscious because most people aren’t aware of how they are being swept away by thoughts and emotions. The reconditioning happens by training your awareness through breathing meditation, body-scan meditation (IMO better name than mindfulness/vipassana) and other meditations. Now you’re more aware which is how you’re reconditioned and with that you can decide to not act on your old habits.

CBT is a thing from psychology. Meditation is taken by psychologists from Buddhism and integrated into it. But IMO it doesn’t follow the philosophy of CBT. So to say it us CBT or falls under it ignores what it really is: a technique from religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.

Search Inside Yourself is a good book to read more about it from or positive psychology from Harvard (2006, taught by Tal Ben Shahar, it’s on YouTube).


I’ve been practicing off an on for about ten years. I’m definitely not an expert. I like your explanation, but I think there’s more to it. Mindfulness doesn’t necessarily have to be about focusing on a particular thought. You can focus on nothingness and receive similar results. You can focus on a certain feeling for different results. Your focus object has a lot to do with what you get out of the experience. Additionally, the habit of recognizing what it feels like to not let your thoughts race can be powerful when your thoughts start racing at a later time.


I'm learning the mindfulness skills from the DBT skills workbook. For the first time I really get what 'mindfulness' is. It's actually quite accessible and not just some vague term. Really enjoying learning mindfulness skills and starting to use them in everyday situations.

I find that it gives another option other than the default reaction to situations, so you can be more intentional.


Seeing through abstractions and illusions is a possible outcome, but it also frees the senses to look deeper into the once-negligible.

Get a pencil, paper, and small object that you can fit into your closed palm. Like a nut, or other piece of plant. Set a timer for 10 minutes and spend that time describing as much as you can about the object. How it feels, looks, tastes, sounds. From all different angles in different contexts. Abandon preconceptions and play with the object. You might be surprised how much detail there is and how quickly the 10 minutes passes.


Things get less interesting because you get detached from what people consider worldly pleasures. In Buddhism, happiness comes from cutting afflictions down through training and practice.

If you find a good knowing teacher, they can guide you through a process where you can attain the bliss of meditation, which is completely worth it and different from "regular" happiness.

As you practice, this newfound happiness becomes ingrained and you become happier. It's very natural.


I guess many things are interesting just because they produce dopamine spikes, they are kind of superficial, and meditation reveals it. Meditation does not erase deep and sustained interests in me.

But maybe it is age - I am in my mid 30s.


I started meditating in college (30+ years ago) and always thought I was doing it right. Then a few years ago I began using Sam Harris' Waking Up app and realized I was doing it wrong.

I'd read about people traveling to Tibet to learn meditation and how, interspersed with their actual meditation, were periods of instruction. This never made sense to me. Now I understand the value of that instruction. Sure, some people can pick up an instrument without ever taking lessons; most people can't. It's the same with meditation.

Highly recommended for both novice and experienced meditators alike.

https://www.wakingup.com/


I use the waking up app also.

It's pretty nice. There's a introductory course on mediation, a daily meditation, and lots of theory and interview podcasts.

Harris takes you through lots of variants of 10 minute meditations, focusing narrowly (on body sensations, breathing, sights, sounds, etc.) or very broadly (taking in everything at once), or a few on wishing happiness on others.

He emphasizes, to an almost extreme degree, the search for "self", for the thinker of thoughts. It gets a bit repetitive, but the goal is keep looking but never find the self and therefore see that "self" is simply an illusion of the mind. With practice you will experience more and more the pure state of experiential flow. An interesting aspect is learning to treat your own thoughts as another "input event" appearing in consciousness, just as sensory inputs are. You observe your thoughts, but learn not to become "lost in thought".

There's also some great practical wisdom about the waste of negative thought loops, the finite nature of life, and a habit of gratitude.

He has a great bit on "the last time" which ruminates on the idea that eventually you will do everything for the last time (and you probably won't even know it. But what if you did? How would it change your attitude toward even mundane experiences?).

Also that experience is largely determined by attitude. There are miserable people in the Carribean on luxury yachts, and joyful people in the dark in freezing rain (for example on a great wilderness adventure). And it's your ability to steer your mind that makes the difference.

Good stuff.


Any chance you could provide a brief overview of what you think makes this different? I've meditated with a few different secular and Buddhist groups and retreats and was wondering how this approach might differ.


Wholeheartedly agree. I've been using Waking Up since November last year and have found it incredibly helpful even after years of practice with other mindfulness tools such as Calm or Headspace.


I listened to the record again; Popple, crackling, the sound of streams; The tape is transcribed; From the spinning disk to my mind; Let’s listen again but this time one rut deeper; The orbit quickens but the beat is steady; The needle stops vibrating for a moment in between tracks;


If you like this sort of stuff then you'll like Sam Harris' waking up app and his ideas around consciousness in general. If I didn't know any better I could mistake this commenter as Sam himself!


Changing your mind is almost as good as changing the world. That speaks to the point of controlling what you have control over and also the fact that our experiences is the only way we have if perceiving the world


Don’t minimize the importance of acting though if you constantly find the same stressors intruding on your thoughts. If meditation helps you deal with street noise, that’s great, but you might also consider closing the window.

I see lots of meditative techniques suggested to employees of larger companies through the likes of Happify, but if people really listened to their bodies their employers would be in for big trouble!


I've always struggled with what to think about how companies have recently jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon. I appreciate the support but the cynical side of me still feels like it is an attempt to keep employees complacent with the growing decrease in a positive work environment.


Aptly put. Very insightful,


Some overlap with Stoicism here. From the Enchiridion of Epictetus:

1. Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.


Here are some of my favorite Epictetus quotes:

Chapter 8 Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whatever way they happen: this is the path to peace.

Chapter 9 Sickness is a problem for the body, not the mind -- unless the mind decides that it is a problem. Lameness, too, is the body’s problem, not the mind’s. Say this to yourself whatever the circumstance and you will find without fail that the problem pertains to something else, not to you.

Chapter 10 For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it. Provoked by the sight of a handsome man or a beautiful woman, you will discover within you the contrary power of self-restraint. Faced with pain, you will discover the power of endurance. If you are insulted, you will discover patience. In time, you will grow to be confident that there is not a single impression that you will not have the moral means to tolerate.

Chapter 14 You are a fool to want your children, wife or friends to be immortal; it calls for powers beyond you, and gifts not yours to either own or give. You can, however, avoid meeting with disappointment in your desires; focus on this, then, since it is the scope of your capacities. We are at the mercy of whoever wields authority over the things we desire or detest. If you would be free, then, do not wish to have, or avoid things that other people control, because then you must serve as their slave.


> ...avoid things that other people control, because then you must serve as their slave.

A good mantra for self-hosted FOSS as well, come to think of it.


But is it really? I just read a german translation, which says to neither wish to have, nor to wish to avoid. Does anyone here know enough greek to clarify this?


Another translation:

> Whoever then wishes to be free, let him neither wish for any thing nor avoid anything which depends on others: if he does not observe this rule, he must be a slave.

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%...


My parsing of the sentence of the "neither wish to have" part is that the thing the other person controls is the object of this wish.

So it still works if we extrapolate that to something like "If I was in control of this software, I would make it so much better." Well, congrats, because you are (in FOSS)! Even if someone else maintains a project, you can always fork it.


That was my (native British English) reading of the English too - it's just that GP's quote clips the context.


> Sickness is a problem for the body, not the mind -- unless the mind decides that it is a problem

Sickness can affect how mind works very significantly just because of blood chemistry.


A lot of philosophy and "wisdom" is in telling people what they should do and probably already try to do without giving them the tools to do it.

A wise person realizes it is silly to tell someone "Don't hope that events will turn out the way you want" without giving them real tools to address their feelings.


that's fair, although i will say that people tend to complicate these things to a ridiculous degree, coming up with a laundry list of reasons they can or cannot make strides towards these goals.


The stoics developed tools you are asking for. You can find a good summary of them in the book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.


There’s also loud echoes of Nietzche’s metamorphoses - Child, Lion, Camel, Child. Most of us get stuck on lion or camel, either fighting or bearing up under burdens. The child simply is, and finds delight in those small elements of nature which are deemed irrelevant to those still labouring under the guises of misapprehended beasts.


I have long regarded happiness in the same category as grace: it is an undeserved and unasked for free gift. An epiphenomena that is not a consequence of, but happens along with, other positive actions.

And for me that's living a less self-centered life.

I am happy when what I do with my life enriches the lives of others. But being transactional about this ruins the game. It is, among other things, the opposite of zero-sum. Do the thing for the exuberant joy of the thing itself, don't take yourself too seriously or try to carry too much weight, and act in the trust that, but do not demand as payment that this will lead to a happier place.


This pretty much sums up Christian ethics.


I didn't say it was a particularly original idea. :)


Christian ethics is all about demanding a payment, ie. the promise that one's good deeds will be rewarded in afterlife.


No, we are all sinners, and Jesus paid the price for each one of us on the cross:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." [Ephesians 2, 8-9 NKJV]

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us". [1 John 1, 8-10 NKJV]


Probably worth adding the famous John 3:16:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (emphasis mine)


Yes! That it is were it starts and continues in aeternum. :-)


Hmm, that understanding is a little bit off. Here's a common analogy:

You go before a judge for sentencing, and he says that you have inherited a debt of a trillion dollars. He then says he offers to wipe your slate clean. Your possible responses are:

1) I don't believe you, I don't owe any debt. (atheist)

2) I believe I owe this debt, but I reject your offer. (demons)

3) I believe I owe this debt, but I will pay it myself. (good works)

4) I believe I owe this debt, and I am eternally grateful that you have paid it for me. (christians)

So your description would fall under category (3). You owe a debt of a trillion dollars and then say, hey, here's a couple hundred bucks I earned through my good deeds, we're good, right? That's a complete insult, to reject the gift, and then try to pay it back with a pittance.


From the Catholic perspective this is not true. People do not Earn heaven, it is a gift. And doing the right thing is good for it’s own sake.


This seems like a murky area even for Catholics. My understanding was that it is still contingent on faith and all the rituals.


Yes, but the Catholic position is based on St James idea of "living faith". E.g. Faith without works is dead. It also is based on Jesus' instructions about "he who loves me, does my commands". The grace and love are free gifts, but what is love without good actions?

The best analogy I can think of is if a husband says they love their wife, but they never help them, show affection, do anything to serve them, do they really love them? Now in marriage, love should ultimately be unconditional (to a point, all analogies fall down at some point). If a wife loves their husband freely, but the husband says they return the love but do nothing to show it, what can we infer about his love?


At a glance it doesn't seem you're contradicting me but that faith stipulates following Biblical instruction. That describes the religion in practice, anyone that dons faith would do that (or portend to) as faith encapsulates all those ideas.

The notion that people should do good for its own sake doesn't really change the fact that it's the ticket for Catholicism. Conversely in, say, Calvinism nothing you do can guarantee Salvation.


there isn't such a thing as the singular christian ethics.

And the theologians i've read who seem the most on point explicitly reject the transactionalist nature of payment-demanding as inhuman and a fundamental misunderstanding of the game.

i'm on board with universal reconciliation, so "pie in the sky when you die" never did it for me anyway, but to be clear i'm also not describing "some happier future state" in my top post as anything other than improvement for our lives as we know them right now on this planet.


More accurately that worship / faith will be rewarded with salvation. For Christians afterlife is broadly considered a certainty, it's just a question of whether you'll get the good or bad one.


Eternal has neither before nor after, so afterlife needn't enter into it. The Kingdom of God is within you.


That's a rather eastern perspective. Mortal life ends and for the average Christian of any denomination, the burning issue is what comes after.


that is certainly the parody, and it’s not wrong for some, but my experience in each of the 5 congregations i’ve been a part of does not reflect it.

the kingdom of god is not heaven after you die. it’s much more to do with the homeless woman on the street outside your house right this instant.

and i’m a boring mainline protestant!


> the kingdom of god is not heaven after you die

Quite a few religions will regard the present moment as such (Buddhism, Judaism), but not all propose an afterlife. Whether all the world is the Kingdom, by definition Heaven is too.

The weight of messaging and interpretation shifts with the times to capitalize on the fact that people are more life-affirming when times are good, and if broadly there's toil and suffering, well, hope for peace in the next life.

I think it's disingenuous to ignore the distinction. You can quibble about what-its-all-about, but in accordance with the dogma there's either afterlife or there isn't, and that knowledge is so prominent in popular culture that non-believers know it, people from other cultures know it.


My perspective strongly identifies the phrase "the kingdom of god" with Isaiah's vision of the mountain, which is firmly of this world and our time. It is a making-right of this world that we should never forget to strive for.

The mistake that rather a lot of my evangelical cousins make (i am not one) is that, to paraphrase James, they tend to be so focused on the life to come and have such a crabbed interpretation of "staying unblemished by the world" that they entirely forget -- or worse, regard as something that blemishes you -- the "visiting the widows and orphans in their distress" clause. And that just won't do.


Just wanted to say I find this a really great framing, particularly:

> Do the thing for the exuberant joy of the thing itself

It's something that I've started to act on recently, and I'm finding that thinking about activities in this way overcomes the paralysis I often feel when thinking about trying something new. Framing it this way gives me permission to try something, and not feel negatively if I fail or am bored by it. I've discovered so many things that I can enjoy purely for the experience of them, that none of my friends know I do (and that I don't need external validation for), that also happen to be beneficial to other people who I would otherwise have never interacted with.


There's a bit of a trap here that I find myself standing in.

Parts of our culture are participatory. You get social benefits from going through the same things as your peers. When you stop getting sucked into things by your insecurities, you become non-participatory. You miss out on chances to connect with other people. There is no bonding experience for you, but there is for everybody else. It can be kind of alienating.

Imagine you are watching a new movie with people. 15 minutes in your think, "Hey, this is a retelling of a story by [Shakespeare,Brontë]", or "Oh geeze, the nerdy guy is the killer and everyone has dismissed him despite the foreshadowing." You now know the story arc, and so the roller coaster ends for you (unless the director is exceptional - Ron Howard, Apollo 13). Everyone else is having a great time. You're still having a good time, but you're paying more attention to the production values or the emotional range of one of the actors. You aren't part of the same experience, and you are gonna have a tough time participating in the conversation. Whatever you do, don't tell them you knew what was going to happen all along, Mr Buzzkill.

There are plenty of idealogs who would insist this isn't a problem. Your need to belong is just another hang-up you need to deal with. That you should let go of that too. But I don't think many of those idealogs ended their lives forgotten and alone because they never built a connection (or inter-generational connection in particular) with other people.


What's the problem? You can enjoy the movie and talk about the connections to Bronte and the little clues the movie showed.

The problem seems to be less that literature is derivative, and more that the viewer is looking for reasons to dismiss things instead of reasons to enjoy them.


If you have a simple, relatable problem, then you can illustrate it with something that gets to the heart of the matter.

If you're trying to illustrate something esoteric, like black hole physics, immunology, or Zen, you're going to have to come at it sideways, via analogy, and possibly layered. Which may be part of our current, greater problem with anti-intellectualism. People understand the analogy and think this has prepared them to participate rather than appreciate.

So the problem with movies is that movies are the least of the problem.


You don't form connections by bludgeoning yourself into a different mold, but by finding a way to connect while being yourself. I see things very differently than most of my friends, and I'm still good friends with them and they with me.


>You aren't part of the same experience

I think that you(we) never are.


> You're still having a good time, but you're paying more attention to the production values or the emotional range of one of the actors. You aren't part of the same experience, and you are gonna have a tough time participating in the conversation. Whatever you do, don't tell them you knew what was going to happen all along, Mr Buzzkill.

You need smarter friends... Hanging out for extended periods of time with people below your level does not work well.


If you live in a very aggressive and malevolent environment that constantly wants to break you and use you for its own needs it's important to follow these rules:

1. Don't forget to love. There is always something to love. This is the most important thing. Enemies will try to make you hate (no matter what).

2. Be happy. It may sound as a trivial advice, but to be actually happy it's very helpful to consciously set your inner state as "happy". Despite all negative aspects of the situation you are in.

3. Be grateful. This is also helps a lot. There is always something more to lose. Be grateful for what you have now.

4. Dream! Dreams are the force that move us in our life. And the movement is necessary.

5. Live! Another trivial advice. But you can easily stuck under the burden without noticing it.

6. Try to fly over the problems, don't let them control your mind and thoughts. Think of them as walls (well, sometimes you have to break through).

7. Try to use long-term planning. Uncertainty is not a good thing for happiness.

8. Don't get sucked and destroyed by the temporary situation. There is always sunrise after darkness. Remember it.


I can't agree with this list enthusiastically enough. Thank you.


So if you ask people if they’d be happier living in California or the Midwest, most people say California. Actually the regions have comparable life satisfaction, but people say California because they think of the weather and fail to take account of other things, such as the fact that California is full of tedious hippies.

The author does not cite research about about how "tedious hippies" make people sad, nor demographic evidence that California is "full of" them.


Yeah, I'm not sure what the author[0] means there either. I looked through the latest Census and I couldn't find any sufficient data on "hippies", as there was not a question for that[1]. If there is no data on it, how can one make the dubious claim that one is "full of"[2] them? I really wish this article was more well researched[3].

[0] by author I am referring to the author of the article which this thread is talking about

[1] https://data.census.gov/cedsci/

[2] by "full of" I assume a simple majority

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research


The part about hippies is just an example, think of it as an figure of speech. The point he is making has nothing to do with the weather or hippies, it's that peoples believes on what makes them happy are not in alignment to what actually makes them happy or they fail to take account for lots of variables changing, while they believe only one changes.


I think it might be a joke.


At first I thought that parent didn't understand the joke. Now I think I might have not understood the meta-joke.


Yes, I think the parent is a /metajoke/ as you call it :) However, there are 3 threads around that miss the original author is poking fun there. I'd like to stress the structure of these 3 paragraphs:

  The first is that, [serious things with a reference] they think of the weather and fail to take account of other things, such as the fact that California is full of tedious hippies.
  The second, [serious things with a reference] [after a breakup] we’ll decide we never liked the person anyway.
  The third [serious things with a reference]. In other words, last night’s party was never as good as you think it was.
Given my HN karma, I won't dare end this comment with an attempt at being humorous. It would be akin to a HN suicide.


I've lived in both places. I'd be open to going back to lots of places in the Midwest. I'd only move back to the Sierra Nevada foothills in California (where there are still tedious hippies, but they're more my kind of tedious hippies).


There are some widely agreed upon truths that need no citation :)


Can you point me towards those? I think you are referring to aphorisms[0], but I couldn't find any in the related Wikipedia article[1].

[0] a pithy observation that contains a general truth

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphorism


Can confirm.


I can confidently say that I am happy. Everybody close to me thinks that I was born happy and positive but they couldn't be more wrong. Achieving a permanent state of happiness took years of active mental exercises. Since I don't have any credible psychology background, nobody listens to my suggestions in real life. I doubt anybody would take me seriously here as well, but... all I have is time so this will help someone find their own path to happiness.

The first exercise I did in my pursuit of happiness was to understand what it means to be a happy person.

1. (At night) Would a happy person reach for the bottle of scotch? Why would he?

2. Knowing what I know about animal farming, would a happy person enjoy eating meat as much as currently am?

3. Would a happy person be as frustrated as I am with an under performing co-worker?

Once I had an idea of what a happy 'me' would do, I started going down a journey of self reflection. Why am I doing the things a happy me wouldn't do?

The whole journey helps me gain a higher resolution into my feelings and once my mind and my feelings are aligned, the negative feelings went away. My ability to empathize (initially I did not even know what that was) was no longer suppressed. Nowadays, negative feelings are rare, but every negative feeling and pain I feel is an opportunity to align my feelings and my logic.

I believe this: You will never be happy following someone's else's happy path.

You will be happy once you find the courage to confront your demons, reflect, and understand yourself better. Our minds does good job at hiding you from finding these demons, so a big part of the journey is finding and identifying them.


> Since I don't have any credible psychology background, nobody listens to my suggestions in real life.

The reason I prefer listening to researchers is because they study populations and try to account for confounding variables.

I'm glad to hear you're happy, but I'm skeptical of how well you're able to attribute that to particular circumstances/actions.


I understand. Purely anecdotal:

This is probably a very bad thing to admit, but it is true in my case. Once I stopped listening to researchers and professionals, I started becoming truly happy. I feel like I'm making my own decisions. Doing research and weighing options leads to self doubt which leads me down a painful dilemma. Now I just experiment and make my own decisions that feels right and it is very empowering.


Anecdotally, I agree. :)


I found it strange that there was not one mention of the ancient Stoics, who, disregarding their non-materialist viewpoints, came up with much of this philosophy. I'd argue they are a more accurate original source of these viewpoints on mindfulness and contentment than the Epicureans.


Stoic ethics is greatly underrated unfortunately. Despite being extremely influential from Christian ethics to modern cognitive behavioral therapy, it's relatively obscure. Everyone is familiar with it without knowing its source.


There is a picture of Epicurus or Marcus Aurelius with some pithy quote posted daily on many social media channels. The idea that "stoicism" is obscure is tenuous at best.


Pretty weak evidence for something not being obscure. I'm willing to bet that a survey would support my position that it's obscure. As for my weak evidence: personally I don't know anyone that is familiar with stoic ethics, and even in my university's philosophy department, it's basically only the one professor who specializes in Hellenic philosophy that obviously is familiar with it. Furthermore I have seen several CBT practicioners and none of them have heard of it.


I think this just exemplifies that Epicureanism and Stoicism share strong overlaps, despite their being pitted against one another.


I don't agree with his analysis of modern happiness levels. It's yet another biased quantitative analysis of various metrics that are decoupled from human nature. Struggles, efforts, shorter lifespan is not a problem if your days are filled with deeper emotions, less confusion, better balance timewise (slower pace but more efficient labour).

A tiny instance to try to explain my above abstract: in 2020 you can have a lot of tech, a cute office but still asked to archive a whole room on your own. In other cultures this would have been organized differently in pair for instance (you can see videos of people in asia building houses by juggling bricks between another). This turns a 10h dreadful and lonely chore into a 3h shared, almost pleasant, choreography. I believe how era is filled with false modernity which are mostly absurd lack of good sense around human needs for flow, teaming, etc

ps: critic aside, I find it lovely to see that people are "researching" happiness, which is probably more important to 100% of the population than a lot of "matieral" research being done right now


Very insightful, please share more.

I agree upon what you are saying, and would love to know what active steps I could take to fill my days with deeper feelings and make them meaningful.

As far as the article is concerned, I do concur with his analysis, especially about mindfulness, and CBT. I have practiced mindfulness and it does keep me stable, grounded, sharp and happy.


I have no real advice to be honest, just various experiences on how our modern life is full of unnecessary drag and false solutions while living in a bare place makes your days different.

Also I cannot avoid the immense amount of extremely low efficiency in most organizations... there's nothing interesting in today's live for most people. Just drag fit with shallow moments. I'd rather carry wood on a horse powered carriage for 3 days. And for once I'm not exaggerating much.


Another perhaps more esoteric approach is pointed to by Ramana Maharshi (and others) who encouraged people seeking happiness to inquire into "the one who is unhappy". In other words, to ask oneself, "Who is it that is unhappy?" The idea being that the independent entity that most of us take ourselves to be is just a fictional story (an I-thought) with no real existence, and that it comes about from an erroneous identification with thoughts. Once that is fully realized, the problem of happiness is permanently solved because the "I-thought", as he calls it, is the real root of the problem. In fact, according to him, it's the root of all of our problems. ;-)


Oh for the luxury of an internal locus of self evaluation! Repositioning my perspective on who I was - changing the goal posts of happiness as it were was all so easy once upon a time and then I got married! I find this kind of transcendental juggling a good bit harder now that it’s not just my own happiness that needs to be accommodated ... anyone got any tips?


As a very happy person, perhaps I can give some advice :)

One thing that's surprisingly powerful is changing your perspective or telling yourself that you're happy. Similar to faking confidence, in a way: it starts fake but eventually you'll be actually confident, and you won't need to fake anything. Maybe the word "fake" isn't the right one here; I think a good analogy is starting an engine - the first few turns of the engine are artificial but what follows is quite real. As the article says, most of our happiness level comes from our mind, and you control your mind. Thinking something makes it true in many cases: research has shown that people get convincingly drunk or high just from thinking they are (being given a placebo.)

"Do more of what you like" is decent advice too, but it doesn't always align with happiness. I like swimming, eating pizza, and going to thrift stores. But I've tried, and doing more of those things didn't make me happier. I like biking, traveling, and photography - doing more of those did make me happier! And I don't like putting my phone away for a week, or doing chores that I put off, but those things do make me happier. My advice would be to experiment, and take notes.

Changing my lifestyle completely has also been good for me. It gives me time to look back and see what I really thought about a three hour commute or an unusual diet or unlimited data. Even things as mundane as new socks or a better phone case have made a difference for me. And there are some surprisingly big things I don't care about at all.

I think trying to improve your happiness in ways like these is generally good for you, though I'd caution against making it into an obsession. Pretty much everyone I've seen that's obsessed with a quest for happiness didn't seem very happy. I think there's another piece of the puzzle - being able to just be content - and for some that may be the hardest part of all.


In that vein, every morning I look in the mirror and smile at myself. It gives you a lift to see someone smile, no matter how forced. And its free. Never mind it's you looking back - the response to a smile is built-in and works anyway. For me.


Assuming happiness and working backwards sounds like a great idea, thanks! I'm going to try it right now. Happy me would write this comment and then go hang out with my wife.


> Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think. In fact, I don’t think this last idea even crosses most of our minds.

Really? I'm pretty sure there are thousands of years of philosophical and religious traditions that teach something along the lines of "looking for happiness in the external world is a bad idea, instead try working on yourself".

I mean the four noble truths of Buddhism, a religion with roughly 0.5 billion followers, are (paraphrased):

1. There is suffering

2. That suffering is caused by attachment to worldly things

3. The way to get rid of that suffering is to work on not being attached to those things

4. The best way to work on not being attached to those things is, surprise surprise, Buddhism.

But this idea seems pretty prevalent in pop-psychology as well. So I'm not sure who the we in "our minds" is, but I think even most instagram celebrates of realized that maybe "self work" is a good idea.

Unfortunately there are some philosophers that, in the last 300 years, have started to question whether there is such a clear divide between the external and internal world... but I don't expect most people to spend their time reading a lot of philosophy.


A preponderance of religions and philosophies that advocate changing the way one thinks does not mean that most people subscribe to them. Most people are insanely dogmatic including self-described Buddhists (such as those on Myanmar that are cruel to Rohingya), Jews (that abuse Palestinians), Christians (I don't need to describe their flaws), and Muslims. There are tenets of each faith that advocate viewing the world in a more open and relaxed manner. Almost all adherents of these religions and philosophies ignore those parts.


>Jews (that abuse Palestinians)

I'm not 100% sure that the Jewish religion can be associated with Israeli foreign policy. Israel would be fighting with Palestine whether any Jewish believers lived there or not.


I agree that the claim that All Jews are necessarily Pro-Israel is false. But I don't think that was what the author meant. His claim seemed more like "Israel is a Jewish state, and does misdeeds under that banner", which I don't think anyone would disagree with.

https://www.vox.com/world/2018/7/31/17623978/israel-jewish-n...


Correct. Many Jews disagree with Israel's current relationships — and many early zionists like Herzl would likely disagree too.


If the default state were to be open and relaxed, then all these religions wouldn't need to mention it.


suffering can be deeper, but that's also probably stepping into psychiatry territory.. my point is you cannot reason or meditate everything away


> you cannot reason or meditate everything away

100% agree. I was born a Buddhist and was a devout Buddhist until I was 13-14 years old (then I became an atheist). I went to monasteries for weeks on end to meditate. But what I found was that meditation is not for me. I cannot get rid of my recurring mental sufferings (anger, fear/anxiety, jealousy/envy, self-/guilt) just by spending more and more time in meditation.

One thing that I found extremely useful is stoicism (at least in the way I interpret it). I simply learned to accept that these bad feelings come and go, and that is the nature of being a human. There's nothing wrong with having such bad feelings, which I personally call as 'bad karma'. I just need to be aware of them (which meditation supposedly helps detect, but I find myself being able to do without meditating equally well) and be at peace with the fact that they come and go in my life as a human.

What is in my control is how long I dwell on these moments of bad karma. For that, I always try to get myself out of these bad-karmic situations by trying to see things in a bigger picture or in longer term (e.g., 'Well, I am not making as much money as I want to now, but that's okay because even if I don't earn more than what I do now, I can still retire pretty comfortably by living a minimalistic life. Alternatively, I just need to work maybe 2-3 more years with the current income to save up to the level of savings at which I want to retire. In the worst case scenario in which I get sick/disabled, I will just learn to adapt as human beings and other living beings are observed to do in adversity.') Trying to see things from such larger perspective makes me feel pretty content and thus, releases me from a lot of anxiety issues.


What did you expect to find in meditation at 13-14 years old though? Hardly any real conflict or hardship in anyone's life at that age.

Honest question, not looking to berate you.


You made a good point. I didn't have any particular motive for meditating at that time except that I did it because a lot of people in my native Theravada Buddhist country encourages everyone to do that (to attain Nirvana).

I meditated to find Nirvana back then. But as I grew older, I realize that Nirvana is interpreted very differently even among Buddhist scholars, and thus is a relative/personal term. Nowadays, my definition for Nirvana is just to have a day without a lot of bad karma (hate, jealousy, anger, fear, anxiety) in my head. If I don't meet that daily goal, that's okay as well. For that, I find myself not needing to meditate and just need to be aware to distract my mind if I catch it in a state of bad karma. Maybe meditation will help some people catch their mind of dealing with bad karma, and maybe that approach might yield better results than me simply trying to be more self-aware and be more stoic. :)


You and I had a very different 13-14.


Certainly. Question is, now that you are at your current age, don't you feel that if you practice meditation now, it would you bring more benefits compared to back then?


That seems like a very different question than the point of the comment that I replied to. In my short reply, I made it about you and me, but my point was that lots of kids have real "conflict or hardship". If I told you about the stuff that was going on in my house at that age and replaced "family" with "roommates" and "school" with "work", you'd probably think of it as pretty rough. My life is much easier now at 31.

But enough about me. About 1 in 7 US children are food insecure [1] and will go hungry at some point this year. One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.[2] There is a lot of pain experienced by the world, and there's no age cutoff.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunger_in_the_United_States#Ch... [2]David Finkelhor, Anne Shattuck, Heather A. Turner, & Sherry L. Hamby, The Lifetime Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Assessed in Late Adolescence, 55 Journal of Adolescent Health 329, 329-333 (2014)


Why should it?


I absolutely agree with this and tend to fall much more on the pessimist side regarding any solution to suffering.

My point is that the author claiming "I don’t think this last idea even crosses most of our minds" seems off given that "change yourself not the world" is arguably the dominant theme regarding suffering for most philosophies throughout human history, from religions to pop-psychology self-help books (even the idea of "self-help" implies working on yourself to solve your problems).

Even deeper, the clear divide between the "external" and "internal" is pretty suspect in nearly all Western philosophical traditions in at least the last 200 years. This is something I would expect a PhD in Philosophy at Oxford to at least be passingly familiar with.


> you cannot reason or meditate everything away

Yes, there are external events that are beyond one's control, but often one's reaction to those events is amenable to reason and/or meditation.

(A thought expressed, e.g., by Epictetus: "ταράσσει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους οὐ τὰ πράγματα, ἀλλὰ τὰ περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων δόγματα" — people are disturbed not by events, but by their opinions about events).


The things I was thinking of are below the conscious layer, flashes and bodily pain popping randomly (PTSD like if you want a simpler picture).


That's an interesting question. I'd say that it's at least conceivable that meditation may help mitigate some of these phenomena.


I cannot conclude but so far my experience with meditation, except for one powerful instant where my mind rose to some light, 99% of it was not significant. It did help smooth some things but for short times and not deep.


>Really? I'm pretty sure there are thousands of years of philosophical and religious traditions that teach something along the lines of "looking for happiness in the external world is a bad idea, instead try working on yourself"

The author is referring to the common man, whom we in the west have been conditioned to think much more highly of than is evidently deserved.

It should not be controversial to say that people by and large are ignorant.


If you tell yourself that the real world is irrelevant, it makes you more irrelevant in the real world.


Do you need to be relevant?


Exactly, most people I know don't want to ask themselves this kind of questions


Because they feel inner need to be relevant or other way around ?


That doesn't equate to unhappy though... Could be the exact opposite...


> I think even most instagram celebrates of realized that maybe "self work" is a good idea.

There is an entire community within instagram that is focused on this. I think they call themselves the "positivity movement". I have a cousin who is heavily involved in it. They mean well but as a skeptical outsider I always find it a bit dogmatic; they tend to focus to much on improving point of view without the concomitant work on the material self.


Happiness comes when you realize that's impossible to be happy all the time and that's fine.


"In all my life, there have been maybe 10 minutes of real happiness"

"Makes it all the more valuable, doesn't it?"


I think advice like this is unfortunately just bullshit. It’s similar to cases of treating depression with drugs when most major depression is actually just a biological response to real, actual sadness and external events.

See for example: https://grasshoppermouse.github.io/2018/12/16/seven-reasons-...

Of course there can be many reasons for depression or unhappiness. Some people sincerely can benefit from medication. Sometimes therapy is the right option.

But quite obviously the biggest factor is going to be circumstances. Happiness _should be_ a response to circumstances and improvement. It represents increased utility and benefit for you as a person and obviously the biggest part of that is your circumstances, physical, material, getting needs met, having resources and opportunities.

Some part of this can be about contentment or “zen” mental clarity or whatever, but clearly not the majority, or even a large minority.

I feel advice like this is meant to placate people and make them docile and capitulated to their circumstances and borderline lobotomize away their drive for things to be better by trying to change happiness from a fact of circumstances to an “attitude adjustment” - which is awful, no matter what positive spin you want to put on it.


Once was depressed in university so wrote this on happiness. Helps me to look back on. One 'good' thing about depression is it gives you a reference point of how bad it can get.

Sadly what solved the depression for me was an external event (getting out of uni and getting a job).

https://wiki.nikitavoloboev.xyz/life/happiness


Why is that sad? Situational depression is the best of many bad options as it’s the case where a badly needed change can actually have outsized impact.


By sad I meant that the solution was mostly out of my control. Pure chance that it happened.


> mostly out of my control

Seems like it would be totally in your control to leave school and start working. Remember that for next time you find yourself "trapped".


The general advice given is that everyone wants to change their circumstances when they're unhappy but supposedly our circumstances only account for 10% of our happiness with 50% being genetics and 40% behavior. So everyone tells you stop trying to change your circumstances and change your behavior instead. So, the OPs experience 'sadly' doesn't fit the formal recommendation.


> supposedly our circumstances only account for 10% of our happiness with 50% being genetics and 40% behavior

Do you have a reference for these figures? 50% genetics seems high.


My happiness comes from making others happy, and surrounding myself with similarly minded people, and removing malignant people, places and situations from my life.

There isn't enough time to waste it on shitty people or environments, and making active choices towards that end has improved my quality of life even when going through difficult times emotionally, physically and financially.


This is a good way of thinking kudos


>Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think. In fact, I don’t think this last one even crosses most of our minds.

"Retraining the way we think" has come up in (almost) every homily I've heard in Catholic masses. Many of us, besides thinking about it whenever we happen to think about it, make sure we do this every week (if not more).


Long commutes are indeed the bane of my existence. One can never feel more helpless and outraged while stuck in heavy traffic.

Ironically, this pandemic has made me much happier as I don't have to drive everywhere. I finally have more time to think and pursue my curiosities instead of burning gas and yelling expletives. It's quite refreshing.


I actually have found long (low traffic) commutes to be quite nice for just spacing out and thinking. It's a block of time at the beginning of each day and then at the end of each work day that forces you to ignore the distractions of the world and just leaves you by yourself.


Not possible for me. The behaviour of others around me on the train stresses me out immensely, especially sneezing and coughing (and that was pre-COVID), listening to music or phone calls on speakerphone on crowded trains, stupid conversations, etc.

Further my time is valuable, not in a monetary sense, but when you have a child at home, every minute away counts and there is no value to spending 90 minutes a day on a train.


Over the many, many years, I have thrashed around with ... well, almost every suggestion that usually comes up on these articles and threads responding to these articles, as well as many unorthodox ideas. The pills and the preaching, the assorted practices recommended and the acting, going through the motions of joy hoping something will catch, the focuses outside oneself cast like grappling hooks onto any ship not sinking, the licensed and the masters' teachings, these have all disappointed me in the end. After failure upon failure, I have come to the conclusion that for some, the needle is not moved much at all upward, despite struggles and inventiveness, and so I have sided with Blake: some are born to endless night.


Hey there. Not sure if you will see this since I'm late to the conversation, but here's a suggestion.

Just do what you want.

If you don't want to do anything, keep trying/looking for things. (Don't force yourself to 'enjoy' something. If you don't want to keep doing it after just a little while, it's not the solution, so stop.)

For me, it was video games. I loathed people who play video games. But for me, it was a starting point to start enjoying life again.

You have to start simple. More complex values come later, from having a simple foundation of simple values.

I don't want to trivialize your problems, but I just though I would share this since "Do what you want" is not advice I really ever see, so maybe you haven't tried it yet.


This is one of the more frequent responses. It's in the "if nothing matters, then it doesn't matter what you do" group. Typically travel is suggested.

That would be interesting: a taxonomy of common responses to ongoing despair.


> if nothing matters, then it doesn't matter what you do

That is carrying an enormous amount of baggage that isn't in my suggestion.

Things do matter, and it does matter what you do. To say otherwise is both incorrect and too pessimistic about the human situation.

But, doing what you want is what makes anything matter. It's the solution to the "problem of meaning."

Most people just live their lives, getting barely enough of what they want to not become depressed and dysfunctional, but never actually figuring this out.

What you want is ultimately based in biology. A hungry person wants food; a thirsty person wants water. Of course, you are at a slightly higher level. But you have to look at your own desires to see what, specifically, you want. I would consider this to be a kind of hedonism (in the very technical sense of the term, without any other connotations, such moral looseness or depravity). I'm a long-term hedonist.

I wouldn't suggest anything specific for you (e.g. travel), because I don't know what you want to do. Travel definitely wouldn't suffice, for me. Like I said, for me, it is and was video games. I expect to move beyond that and want to achieve something more complex, eventually. I can feel that coming.

Also, yes, a taxonomy of common responses to despair would be interesting. Probably not helpful, but interesting.


This is an important but deeply tragic point. I have friends who I would bet heavily will be unwellbeing their entire lives.

Even if it is true though, is it worth the total loss of hope that would accompany the resignation to the endless night? To me it seems worth the ups and downs of hope and defeat, if only that it promises some points of positive change whereas if you resign yourself to unwellbeing then you will limit the positive upswings you’ll experience.

Either way, it should be acknowledged that there is a small minority for whom these techniques are but an Advil to a splitting migraine.


Ah, there are no ups of hope, not after a while. What you have, instead, is sickening suspicion that, as much as you might commit to it, no matter how radical the changes, and with no regard to the time you have spent doing whatever it is, it won't work. It becomes an unrewarding hobby: what will I try this time? It's lavender oil aromatherapy for your pancreatic cancer and sure you can try it but ... no ups, only periods of struggle and exhaustion alternating, coming in like the phases of the moon.


And perhaps that's entirely the wrong thing to be optimized. Google "happiness vs satisfaction". Happiness is a short term emotion, satisfaction is a long term one.

A good example is having kids; kids decreases happiness but increases satisfaction.


My thinking on this is that unhappiness is broadly classified as "what will happen" (WWH). What will happen if I can't pay rent, what will happen to my kids if I die, what will happen if I can't make the deadlines and so on. Its a thousand of these that we deal with every second - some are trivial for us and we can manage them. Some are significant for us and they cause unhappiness. Some are recurring, some are one-time (but can have large impact). I don't have a solution - just speaking from personal feelings about this.


Has anyone participated in the testing of the mobile app mentioned at around the 75% mark of the article? One reference they have on the landing page is describing the Experience-Sampling Method [1] - there seem to be a few existing applications that allow one to track how exactly they felt in a quantified manner at a point in time.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_sampling_method


I've realised the simple things: good diet, restful sleep, ample sunlight, a little exercise, and nourishing friends make a TON of difference, more than any of the things listed.


This.

I also noticed quite a bump up when I actively decided to try to not be a cynical asshole _all_ the time. Meditation, on the other hand, never did it for me.

But hey, as long as it works. :)


The article seems to touch upon Acceptance and Commitment Therapy [1] without explicitly calling it out. It is based on mindfulness and accepting things as they are. I personally have found it very effective.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/acceptance-...


Aristotle and Aquinas are indispensible (though you might want to begin with commentaries or approachable introductions, like Feser's). Contrary to the liberal tradition, "freedom" is understood as self-mastery not uninhibited indulgence of the passions which leads to misery (hence the Augustinian observation that man has as many masters as he has vices). Aquinas also distinguishes beatitudo from felicitas. You also have the virtues. Happiness is ultimately teleological.

Look to the ancients and medievals that we so eagerly forget and dismiss because we think we've unquestionably outdone them. Be careful, though, because your fallacious presuppositions may get in the way. They did for me, but with time, those vicious usurpers, that bad metaphysics, that poor substitute for properly understood science, has given way to a sounder picture of things dislodged from the tyrannical grip of error.

All that is to say that you should not be surprised if you find yourself reacting with incredulity until you begin to realize how unfounded and even incoherent it is. Give it time.


For me currently happiness is just the balance between feeding my "lizard brain" (instincts, cravings, laziness) and my rational brain (being productive, working, planning for the future). Whenever I go one way too far, I start feeling either depressed (procrastinating too much) or exhausted/burned out (working too much).


Very relevant on this topic, I loved Daniel Gilbert's book, Stumbling on Happiness.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56627.Stumbling_on_Happi...


I can't read the article right now but love this take from Joscha Bach on Lex Fridman's podcast - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mixT5_U0hk


I have concerns about following advice people write about how to be happy. Why are they doing it? Is it because they are happy, and they want to spread it? If so, is it like a rich person writing on how to become rich? Maybe they tell you X,Y,Z that they think were important in becoming rich, but it was actually A,B,C that they were blind to.

The worse alternative is if it is someone who was unhappy, and then did something to get happy, and now they want to share that thing. Maybe it is just a stop gap measure? I see this as examples in, say, youth pastors who are preaching the word, and then commit suicide and it turns out they were struggling with far more than they ever let on.


This is why any argument anybody makes about anything needs to be supported by a causal explanation.

If there is at least an attempt at a causal explanation, you can evaluate whether or not the advice is worthwhile and/or applicable to your situation.


Yet, even so, the advice they give can still be true. It may be that they just want to help others and also in the process help themselves.

The advices given in the article ring true to me, so it really felt like reading something I already "know" but just don't practice often enough. I find it useful to be reminded.


> Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think. In fact, I don’t think this last one even crosses most of our minds.

This is so, so false that it makes the rest of the article hard to take seriously.

A ton of people thought about these things. Some thousands of years ago, and wrote quite interesting books about it (like a good amount of Buddhist treatises but definitely not only).

A lot of modern people think of that too, problem is that junk food / bad workplaces / tensions in the family / lack of good sleep etc. all change your brain chemistry so that it's very hard for you to look for the problems inward and try and start a change from within.

I don't have proof for this; but I've spoken with therapists and psychologists and they often admit that the pills that some patients want to take literally change the brain chemistry. And dietitians and personal gym trainers tell me that the right food and the right workout routine change your body's composition, hence the brain's as well.

So an article that starts with such a sensationalistic and untrue premise is kind of dubious.

A lot of people think about what the author says they don't. But many don't know where to begin for most (or all) of their lives. That's a modern tragedy we all have to fix: to educate people on mental health, how to avoid the worst kinds of stress, how to deescalate properly, how to give the benefit of the doubt, how to eat what's good for you and avoid the rest, how and what to workout, and many many others.


So an article that gives reason and background as to "why one should retrain the way they think" is instantly disqualified because of a singular sentence that is perhaps a bit hyperbolic? Ah, the literal mind!


You are not wrong in general. But we are all fairly busy around here, I imagine (at least I am). I'd like an article to win me over in the first paragraph.

First impression matters. Call it literal if you will, but to me it's rather a bad first impression.


Must watch Experiments on Happiness - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EnPHxXKtpk


Wow. Long video but it was worth every minute.


And yet there are whole industries devoted to making us unhappy in the hope that we will then consume more of their product. The beauty industry wants to make us unhappy with our appearance. The self-help industry, wants to make us unhappy with our lives in general. Social media wants us to be outraged and thus more engaged. Advertising in general is built around keeping us from being happy so we will buy more stuff.

We should be aware of that and be very careful about the media we consume.


The article is nothing new and just the standard "happiness comes from within" tropes. Whether you believe that or not, this is a very standard view on the subject.


For me the secret to happiness is to produce things. Or said another way: be productive. Make something. If you have a job where you make things you are good to go. Homes, cars, ships (in my case in my youth). If you sit at a desk all day processioning forms or work in a call center, find something to produce in your off hours, often called a hobby, but it could be a side gig. Write some code, write a book, paint a mural, whatever.


One approach I consistently found to work well is to remove things that don't make me happy. It has a bigger longer term effect than doing|buying more.


How to be sad? Convince yourself that your fundamental human needs are not okay, that they only affect you because you are not strong or virtuous enough.


My own thoughts on this, not really a contradiction of the article: http://blog.barrkel.com/2005/10/how-to-be-happy.html

The point about writing down to help memory is good. Though I wonder if forgetfulness of bad times isn't part of hedonic adaptation.


For me the happiest moment is when I'm able to fully utilize my ability to solve a difficult technical problem.


> Actually the regions have comparable life satisfaction, but people say California because they think of the weather and fail to take account of other things, such as the fact that California is full of tedious hippies.

Didn't read past this. There's a way to get your point across & this is not it.


Happiness is overrated; find something you like doing and do it. A job, a hobby, a pursuit--in short, an avocation.

The greatest horror for me would be to not be interested in anything. So many people seem to have this affliction. That is what I would call unhappiness: to be interested in nothing in particular.


Right people always bring up that quote "nobody on their deathbed wished they worked more." But how many people on their deathbed regret a life passed in mediocrity, without at least attempting to master or excel at something; maybe some do wish they worked harder so they could have provided more for their children, etc.


I agree, the mistake is to make happiness the destination, it's more a byproduct of doing the things you're passionate about (which often includes being with the people you love)


I'll settle for being content...


Personally, what's helped me is watching Rick & Morty, and it finally hitting home that none of our lives mean anything in the grandest scheme of things, if there is such a thing. So we are free to live as we want. Nobody can judge us except ourselves.


There is an amazing course on happiness from Yale: https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being


The podcast presented by the professor of that course is also excellent. It's called The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos.


happiness should not be a goal. the way evolution has wired us, we will work for a long time to achieve something that we think is going to make us happy only to move to the next thing after only experiencing a glimpse of happiness.

you have a choice to mindlessly chase what you think is going to make you happy or simply enjoying your current life situation by totally accepting it. you don’t need anything besides basic things to make you happy. happy is your natural state and we inflict pain and suffering upon us continually. stop doing it - break the cycle.


I often inquire 'why is happiness the thing we choose to focus on'


I do too; I've had this conversation a few times. Happiness isn't my highest priority, it's up there, but there's a lot of trade temporary happiness for, such as health or sanity.


All other things being equal, happiness is 100% chemical.

Either you're naturally happy, or you're not. Additional chemicals (natural or artificial) can help adjust the dopamine, seratonin and norepinephrine levels that we sense as pleasure for a short time, but that's not happiness.

You can be an unhappy rich person, a poor happy one. You can be a happy paraplegic, or an unhappy Olympic level athlete. You can be happy while in prison, or unhappy while free. You can be happy in chronic pain and happy under intense stress. Or the opposite. Hell could be lonliness, or hell could be other people. It's 100% individual.

Accepting your natural state resets the bar, and lets you live peacefully. Everything else is just trying to be something you're not.


You're making a lot of very strong and unsupported statements.

> Accepting your natural state resets the bar, and lets you live peacefully.

"Just accept... that you will always be miserable... and you can live peacefully."


> Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think.

A very western perspective. Vipassana meditation practices are essentially doing that, and I am sure lots of meditation types as well.


Being happy is not complicated. There is no purpose or meaning. Nothing matters on a long enough scale. Live completely in the moment with only select, fundamental long term goals in mind.


happiness is a vague concept

as long as you're not depressed, you're fine


> 'If you look at what people actually do to be happier, it seems nearly everyone tries to change the external facts: we try to become richer, thinner, more successful, to find a better house in a nicer area, and so on. A few of us think about trying to spend less time working, and more time on hobbies or with friends and family. Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think. In fact, I don’t think this last idea even crosses most of our minds.'

You might be new to this because you've just started your PhD, but that doesn't mean everyone else is too.


To me happiness always comes out from hard challenges. Pushing myself to achieve something that I thought was previously impossible


I think the material conditions of one’s existence are relevant to happiness. A lot of articles like this, minimalism, tiny houses and living with nothing strike me as boomer media controlled justifications for austerity. Gas lighting a whole generation of people to settle for less because “things” don’t matter, money doesn’t matter and what really matters is living in a tire shed telling yourself that everything is OK.

Also:

> Actually the regions have comparable life satisfaction, but people say California because they think of the weather and fail to take account of other things, such as the fact that California is full of tedious hippies.

I can’t eyeroll this enough


>Gas lighting a whole generation of people to settle for less because “things” don’t matter, money doesn’t matter and what really matters is living in a tire shed telling yourself that everything is OK.

Other people telling you what you should want is obnoxious. But I take it as axiomatic that whenever someone is doing that sort of thing, they're really debating themselves. Every debatable assertion is the outward expression of inward uncertainty. It's healthy to accept that.

If someone is telling you things don't matter, then they are trying to convince themselves. And if it makes you angry, then you are trying to convince yourself they do matter. You can just say "maybe, maybe not" and possibly consider experimenting to find out. Get things, give them up. It's inevitable that in life, first you get things and then you give them up, anyway.


You're projecting a lot. Nowhere does he advocate minimalism or living with nothing. The notion that a substantial increase in wealth won't lead to sustained increase in happiness is one that has been reflected in research, where survival isn't an issue (i.e. poverty). That's not tantamount to suggesting that this sort of success and others is pointless, it's that there are more effective ways to be happy.

I know that I tend to have an adverse reaction to the prescription of being "grateful", so I dispense with that. There are useful points otherwise.


Entire books and philosophies talk about "retraining the way you think". Not sure, if the author was hiding under a rock, dropped some acid and came with this earth-shattering realization. But ahem, he supposedly has a PHD, so he can get away with it. Most happy people are happy because they have gratitude for the daily things, they don't let negative emotions pull them down and just look at the world with a "glass half-full" view.


“Virtue is facing the fact of what is and the facing of the fact is a state of bliss.” - J. Krishnamurti


I suggest having purpose. Have responsibility, as many find meaning in that.

Good sex helps.

Why does being happy have to be complicated? :)


I'm unhappy and yet too lazy to read this. Oh the existential quandary!


Prerequisite: techniques for motivation


It’s weird that this webpage doesn’t have a scroll bar on my iPhone.


A lot of the points in the article coincide with ideas from the blogger Mr. Money Mustache, who frequently reminds that overcoming hardships is a primary source of satisfaction in life. One example is his piece on the desire for luxury as a weakness, which we should reprogram ourselves to get rid of: https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/08/29/luxury-is-just-an...


if happy depends on effort when unable to make effort then cannot be happy

if learnt to be happy without effort then happy always as it does not depend on any effort or outside influence.. final eternal happiness...


mindfullness sounds like new bullshit buzzword that does not mean anything.


Depending on who you ask it will yield a different definition so in that sense, there's some BS baggage, but it's not to say it can't be useful.


Happiness is not an ideal. Happiness is tepid water on the tongue. -- Holderlin

Man does not desire happiness. Only the Englishman does. -- Nietzsche


In haven't read Nietzsche, but any time I read a quote of his, it always seems to appeal to the most power hungry part of my ego.


I have read some of it, but my take-away from everything changed completely once I saw somebody claiming he was being sarcastic.

And the thing is, I'm almost convinced he wasn't. But it still changed how I read it.


I think these are bad tips to be honest. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - really?

People in countries where psychotherapy is not as prevalent as in the US aren't necessarily unhappier I think.

Some occupations have earned their bad reputation. My opinion. I am not happy with it, but generally quite happy I believe. I don't feel too happy about changing my prejudice towards this field.

Appreciation of what you have is a form of self reflection. Would be good for the occupation to be honest. Suggestion of this form are also often used as a form of psychological abuse. Also a field where this occupations excels in.


I’d encourage you to reconsider the article in context of the fact that CBT can be self-taught with no books or sessions - all of this advice is free, and each tip works independently of the others.

I do agree that open-ended talk therapy seems like a waste of time.


Open-ended talk therapy is like rubber duck debugging. Sometimes you need an expressive outlet that you can't, for various reasons, find elsewhere. And often a confidant (which a therapist can be) is what you need. Lacking a confidant in normal-life or having issues you feel you can't take to that person, a therapist is a decent alternative.


Sorry, I was vague on that term. By open-ended, I meant recurring and without a goal; maybe there’s a better descriptive term for it.


That's also what I meant. I just moved this year, leaving a lot of friends behind (I'd lived there for 10 years, longest I'd lived anywhere, next longest was 5 years when I was in elementary school). I bought a house, which added a lot of financial stress to my life (ate into savings, in 10 years I'll be better off, but now it's tough). I got into a job that was going to be better, but because someone quit I got saddled with crap work that I'm not effective it especially teleworking (I need to observe how people are working to do what they want me to do, and I literally can't right now). And with social isolation in place, my wife and I cannot effectively make new friends and develop new social outlets. From my own experiences in the past: high stress -> general anxiety -> depression -> very bad thoughts. So I sought out a counselor with no specific objective beyond needing to talk, and to relearn some CBT things that I did learn and exercise years ago. But the primary benefit has been the outlet, I'll probably stop having sessions in a few more weeks as I've finally pinpointed a few specific stressors and been able to focus on resolving them, but the outlet was key to realizing what they were.




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