Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Why clear, rational preferences are essential to achieving and keeping happiness

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How would you rate your current level of happiness? If you are already experiencing the highest levels of personal satisfaction, let me congratulate you. Fact is that most people aren't. My next questions is slightly more sensitive. If you were to assume for yourself a life expectancy of 90 years, at what level of happiness are you aiming to spend the rest of your life?

Individuals who are already having a great life tend to worry about how they are going to maintain their happiness in the coming decades. In contrast, people who are rating themselves as unhappy tend to hope for a better future. The crucial question for them, of course, is how to make their dreams come true.

In any case, if achieving and keeping happiness is a long shot, it pays to aim as close as you can. How can you make sure that you are moving in the right direction? Through the years, the following three principles have helped me sharpen my focus. They may be of interest to you.

1. Clear preferences make happiness more easily attainable

People have different ideas of what it means to be happy, but this does not mean that random events possess the capacity to improve your life. More often than not, random factors will only create confusion and irritation.

Happiness is composed of specific experiences that human beings desire to have. Well-being is a positive event, something that we really wish to experience, and keep experiencing. It is a place where we want to be, and a place where we want to stay.

In this respect, I strongly encourage you to draw a detailed picture of your ambitions, so that the picture can serve you as compass while you are walking through life day after day. The sharper your picture, the better decisions you will make, and the faster you'll move in the right direction.

2. Happiness involves the avoidance of undesirable events

At the very minimum, happiness demands the postponement of death for as long as possible. What other negative elements do you need to keep away in order to stay happy? Make the list as long as you need. Pain and sickness should be amongst the first things to avert. The same goes, for most people, for poverty and discomfort.

Your compilation of negatives won't be complete until you have added names of particular individuals, or at least, identified which types of persons you dislike. The purpose of this exercise is to make you conscious of which elements you consider incompatible with happiness.

Few people are actually aware of everything they dislike. Beyond trivialities ("I don't like to eat boiled vegetables"), they won't be able to name the type of environment, physical and psychological, that they rather avoid. Again, the sharper the picture in your mind, the better you will become at steering away from unpleasant things, places and people.

3. Happiness requires a strong sense of direction

This third aspect is often overlooked. Lacking a sense of direction is the equivalent of trusting luck to make you happy. Random events might occasionally make you happy, but most of the time, they won't. If you don't know where you are going, if you don't know what you want from life, you will inevitably feel lost, vulnerable, and confused.

Clarity of purpose gives individuals targets to achieve and paths to follow. The human mind, our ability to think logically, is preeminently teleological ("teleo" means "goal" in Greek). We feel, think and act on the basis of goals that we give ourselves, on the basis of a sense of direction that we develop through experience.

Steps taken in the right direction are likely to improve the quality of your experiences, at least in the long term. Your life should flow towards your objectives, even if those objectives are as imprecise as "I like doing this" or "this is the kind of place I want to live in." Steer your days accordingly, so that you pursue specific or semi-specific goals, while at the same time, you keep negative events at bay.

Whatever your present situation, achieving and keeping a better future is going to involve steady work. Most people are able to motivate themselves for a short while, but they are quick to give up when they meet the first difficulties. Don't be one of those who can only motivate themselves for very short periods.

Draw a sharp picture of your future, as sharp as you can, and let that vision provide you with a clear, strong, steady sense of direction. Only consistent, rational ambitions can sustain the long-term motivation that allows individuals to reach the highest level of happiness.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books   

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