We want to be happy.
Actually we try to be happy.
There are thousands of books that are intended to increase our happiness.
Why aren’t we getting happier?
Reward and Pleasure Paths
Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff, author of Survival of the Prettiest, asks ‘What makes us happy?’ and she tries to look at it through the ways we try to achieve and increase it.
We have basically at least two systems here, and they both are very ancient.
1. One is the reward system, and that’s fed by the chemical dopamine. And it starts in the ventral tegmental area. It goes to the nucleus accumbens, all the way up to the prefrontal cortex, orbital frontal cortex, where decisions are made, high level. This was originally seen as a system that was the pleasure system of the brain.
It turned out that it wasn’t, that it really is a system of motivation, a system of wanting. It gives objects what’s called incentive salience. It makes something look so attractive that you just have to go after it.
2. That’s something different from the system that is the pleasure system, which simply says, “I like this. “The pleasure system, as you see, which is the internal opiates, there is a hormone oxytocin, is widely spread throughout the brain. Dopamine system, the wanting system, is much more centralized.
Forget About Yourself
When people are happiest is when they forget about themselves.
It seems a paradox. But people are happiest when in flow, says Nancy Etcoff.
When they are with other people.
When they are active.
When they are engage in sports.
When they are having sex.
When they are focusing on a loved one.
When they are learning.
When a person is in flow
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychologist and author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, has been studying happiness for moret han 40 years.
How is it possible that some people—especially artists—who spend their lives doing things for which they didn’t expect either fame or fortune?
“When you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new, as this man is, he doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels, or his problems at home. He can’t feel even that he’s hungry or tired. His body disappears, his identity, his identity disappears from his consciousness.
And regardless of the culture, regardless of education or whatever, tehere are these seven conditions that seem to be there when a person is in flow. There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, evne though difficult, and sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes workth doing for its own sake.”
Is happiness related to find the meaning of one’s life?
This question leads me to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. How the identification of a purpose in life helped him to bear his extreme suffering in an Auschwitz concentration camp.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. ~VIKTOR FRANKL [/perfectpullquote]
But how to discover the meaning of life?
Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning:
1. By creating a work (or doing a deed)–doing something significant;
2. By experiencing something or encountering someone (caring for another person);
3. By the courageous attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
What matters is not the meaning of life in general but the specific meaning of a person’s life at any given moment.
Five strategies for finding your life’s task
It might seem that connecting to something as personal as your inclinations and Life’s Task would be relatively simple and natural, once you recognize their importance. But in fact is the opposite. It requires a good deal of planning and strategizing to do it properly, since so many obstacles will present themselves.
In Mastery you’ll find five strategies, illustrated by stories of Masters, that are designed to deal with the main obstacles in your path over time–the voices of others infecting you, fighting over limited resources, choosing false paths, getting stuck in the past, and losing your way.
(1) Return to your origins–The Primal Inclination Strategy
You must understand the following: In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must trascend the field itself and border on the religious.
—>Look for its traces in visceral reactions to something simple; a desire to repeat an activity that you never tired of; a subject that stimulated an unusual degree of curiosity; feelings of power attached to particular actions. If you reconnect with this core at any age, some element of the primitive attraction will spark back to life, indicating a path that can ultimately become your Life’s Task.
(2) Occupy the perfect niche–The Darwinian Strategy
The career world is like an ecological system: People occupy particular fields within which they must compete for resources and survival. The more people there are crowded into a space, the harder it becomes to thrive there.
The game you want to play is different: to instead find a niche in the ecology that you can dominate. It is never a simple process to find such a niche. It requires patience and a particular strategy.
—>In the beginning you choose a field that roughly corresponds to your interests (medicine, electrical engineering). From there you can go in one of two directions.
(3) Avoid the false path–The Rebellion Strategy
A false path in life is generally something we are attracted to for the wrong reasons–money, fame, attention, and so on. If it is attention we need, we often experience a kind of emptiness inside that we are hoping to fill with the false love of public approval. Because the field we choose does not correspond with our deepest inclinations, we rarely find the fulfillment that we crave.
(4) Let go of the past–The Adaptation Strategy
In dealing with your career and its inevitable changes, you must think in the following way: You are not tied to a particular position; your loyalty is not to a career or a company. You are committed to your Life’s Task, to giving it full expression. It is up to you to find it and guide it correctly. It is not up to others to protect or help you. You are on your own.
(5) Find your way back–The Life-or-Death Strategy
—> The way back requires a sacrifice. You cannot have everything in the present. You will have to keep your focus on five or ten years down the road, when you will reap the rewards of your efforts. The process of getting there, however, is full of challenges and pleasures.