Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Book: Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar


I really shouldn't be wasting my time on books like this but there you have it. I currently believe that happiness is a futile goal in and of itself, and that a positive state of mind in relation to happiness/well-being/satisfaction (call it what you will) is best achieved by oblique means. However, Happier is a very slim text so I excused myself the indulgence of a quick read. It turned out that a lot of the material resonated with my views, and offers a few points for consideration, which was a pleasant surprise.

Book clips

Society awards results, not processes; arrivals not journeys.

On happiness as the overall experience pleasure (emotion) and meaning (purpose): Emotions cause motion; they provide a motive that drives our action.  ...Experiencing positive emotions is necessary but not sufficient for happiness. ...To live a meaningful life, we must have a self-generated sense of purpose that possesses personal significant rather than one that is dictated by society's standards and expectations...As George Bernard Shaw said, 'This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one.'

'...The important thing is that we choose a purpose in accordance with our values and passions rather than conforming to other's expectations. An investment banker who finds meaning and pleasure in her work  who is in it for the right reasons - lead a more spiritual and fulfilling life than a monk who is in his field for the wrong reasons'

Consider your day and what gives you pleasure and meaning.

...the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

According to..Montaigne, 'The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to live with purpose.' Having a purpose imbues our individual actions with meaning...

“Ralph Waldo Emerson explains, "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

Happiness presupposes our having to overcome obstacles. In the words of Frankl, 'What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.'

Self-concordant goals: We pursue these goals not because others think we should or we feel obligated to, but because we really want to - because we find them significant and enjoyable. ...We first of all need to know what we want to do with our lives and then have the courage to be true to our wants.

When we know where we are going-and know we really, really want to get there-it is much easier to stay on course, true to ourselves.

The author notes their is a prejudice against work vs leisure. We make a clear distinction and enjoy one and often despise the other, viewing it as a form of suffering, a source of pain.  Cognitive reframing can help (e.g. view it as a privilege vs a duty).

'To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven' - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The way we are orientated toward work - whether we experience work as a job, a career, or a calling - has consequences for our well-being at work and in other areas.

Finding the right work can be challenging. ...We can begin by asking three crucial questions (the author calls this the MPS process):
What gives me meaning?
What gives me pleasure?
What are my strengths?

Instead of quitting and looking for the perfect job, first look to change routines at work to focus on work you find inspiring.

Notes to myself:
  • View goals as enablers for a process.
  • Consider how values and concordant goals may change over time, as I change.
  • Consider how values, meaning and interests and drives can be born out of new experiences and actions. Often you go into an experience with the expectation of getting y out of it, but you get x, y, and z. Go in with an open mind.
  • Focus on trading/buddhist/stoic approach of managing the downside and letting the upside take care of itself. 
  • Self-respect and mental toughness - keep appointments with yourself.

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