25 Things I’m Wondering About Happiness


Despite the title, this post on happiness isn’t meant to be the end-of-days gospel on the matter but rather, a meditative rumination listicle by someone who is wildly unprepared and unqualified to discuss the matter in a meaningful way. And yet the notion of happiness — what is it? who can have it? can I buy it on Amazon with Prime shipping? — has been sitting on my metaphorical shoulder for weeks, now, pecking at my brain meats with an insistent beak.

It’s a very unruly topic, of course. Hard to wrangle. Like trying to wrestle King Kong’s scrotum into a gym bag. “I CAN’T DO IT, MIKE, I’M JUST NOT — I’M NOT MANAGING OVER HERE. THE APE BALLS ARE WINNING, MIKE. REPEAT: THE SCROTUM IS WINNING.”

So, here I am. A clueless, inexpert, inelegant dude. Trying to figure shit out. Like, even now, I don’t know that I agree with half of what I’ve written here. And tomorrow I won’t agree with the other half. But it feels like it’s worth talking about anyway. And so goes the list.

1. Nobody Knows What The Fuck It Is

Everybody will try to tell you how to get happy, how to stay happy, how to entice happiness into your lair where you may mate with it, but the truth is, nobody knows what happiness even is. Sure, there’s a scientific notion. And yeah, there exists a dictionary definition. But like I said above: it’s really very unruly. It’s not a thing with clear margins or a fixed center. Is it the ejaculation of dopamine to the center of the brain? Is it a feeling of warm fuzzy bliss? Is it a long con or a short game? Defining happiness is like trying to grab that little piece of eggshell inside the egg goop — it always seems to escape one’s pinching fingers.

2. Nobody Knows What The Fuck It Does

The purpose of happiness is, honestly, a mystery. Does it make us more efficient? More functional? Better in bed? Longer-lasting erections? Will it make me better at video games? (As I get older, I get worse and worse at video games and it’s starting to bum me out, man. If I get digitally-abused by another racist, homophobic 12-year-old, I’m going to smash my Xbox with a mallet.) Evolutionary science through an orangutan lens suggests happiness helps us live longer and breed more. Whether that applies to us hairless apes known as “humans” depends on how you define — and achieve — happiness. Sidenote: I want an orangutan. For happiness.

3. Happiness Is A Choice

As I grow older it become clearer to me that happiness is a thing you choose — or, rather, you choose to be open to it. In much the same way you choose to be open to meeting new people, having new experiences, buying new breakfast cereals, or attempting new acrobatic sex positions (I’m fond of “The Backwards Charlie,” but found that the “Schenectady Oil Burner” resulted in a short and very unpleasant hospital stay). On the daily we are subject to countless extrasolar objects pelting our mental and emotional exoskeletons and we choose what to let in and what to deflect. Often, though, it seems we let in a lot of bad voodoo while for some strangely self-destructive reason rejecting good mojo. You take a walk and you can either be diminished by the cold wind and shortened days or find enjoyment in how it braces you, in how the sun shines through autumn leaves, in the satisfying crunch of boot heels on acorns (like little mouse skulls I mean what ew I didn’t say that shut up). You have to say: “I’m willing to be happy.”

4. Except When It’s Totally Not A Choice

It’s also very easy to say that, though, isn’t it? Happiness is a choice. When you say that, it suggests that a lack of happiness is the fault of the unhappy. Which can be true, certainly (some folks refuse to pry their boots from the mud of misery), but it’s also important to remind ourselves that happiness is also a privilege. If you’re depressed — not sad, not griefstruck, but honestly and undeniably depressed — then “choosing” happiness is a synonym for courting deeper depression because depression feels like a lightless no-nothing-nowhere pit with smooth walls where your choice to escape feels only more fruitless and frustrating. The sick, the impoverished, the downtrodden, the abused — you can’t cluck your tongue and wag a finger and say, “You should choose to be happy.” The choice of happiness, available to many but not all, is a privilege.

5. Use Your Power For Good Rather Than Evil

Like all privileges, we can use them for good, or we can use them for evil (and by evil, I really mean, abject selfishness). Using your happiness for good means trying to make other people happy. Not by forcing it. Not by assuming they have the privilege, too. But by doing nice things for people. And leaving room for their unhappiness, too. Maybe it really is that simple. Our happiness can sometimes come from making other people happy, too — it’s multiplicative, like gremlins thrown in a hot tub. Charity to others can be charity to ourselves. Someone out there is going to cynically note that this is ultimately selfish, and maybe it is, but so fucking what?

6. Part Of A Balanced Breakfast

If we’re to believe in a nutritional pyramid (mine contains COFFEE in bold jittery letters at the bottom), we should also make time to accept an emotional pyramid, too. Happiness is given an importance and made a priority in a way that suggests that other emotions are somehow inferior, that they are errors that must be fixed. As if sadness is a sickness, as if anger is a broken window. As if other emotions are the zero to happiness’ one. But that’ll fuck you up, I think. Expecting that other emotions don’t belong or aren’t healthy is itself pretty goddamn unhealthy. Happiness is just one color in our rainbow. Other emotions are okay. Hell, more than that, they’re necessary. And we deserve our time with them in order to understand them and negotiate them.

7. Sometimes You’re Wrong About How To Get It

There exists a “chasing the dragon component” to happiness, right? It’s like a hit of heroin or your first taste of great coffee or the first time you orgasm on the back of a raccoon while a burly woodsman — well, I don’t need to finish that sentence, because we’ve all been there. Point is, you get that laser lance of dopamine bliss burning through you and you want that again, so you do all kinds of things to get it. And a lot of what we do is short-term shit. A cupcake. Money. A drink. A video game. A romantic night with a burly woodsman. Fight club. Some of these things give you glimpses of the dragon, but rarely do you manage to grab that sonofabitch by the tail.

8. That Great Don Draper Quote

Don Draper, of Mad Men, says: “Happiness is the moment before you need more happiness.”

9. Happiness Versus Satisfaction

I’ve buried the lede a little, but I think what gets to the heart of the problem is that what we really need is satisfaction, but we seek happiness instead. The two are different, in my mind, with happiness being a short-term fix and satisfaction being a long-term solution. The short game versus the long con. We often ask ourselves or are asked by others if we’re happy. Which, day-to-day, can be a kind of toxic question, right? That’s erosive, corrosive, because if at the moment they ask we don’t feel happy — if we’re whittled away by the day’s many stresses — then we say or think oh, shit, no, I’m not fucking happy at all and then that drop-kicks us into a pit of disappointment. That’s how we invite sadness into our house like a mopey, mumbly vampire.

10. The Better Question

The more important question is, are you satisfied? I might not be happy with a day of writing, but I can be satisfied by the book in total, or by the overall work that I’m doing — but focusing on that microscopic aspect of happiness will send me in a tail-spin. I can have a rough day with the toddler, but if I concentrate on  just that — instead of the larger satisfaction with the little wolverine tornado — I end up feeling resentful, or angry, or some other uninvited and presently unnecessary emotion. Crazily focusing on happiness is like constantly checking the temperature of your Thanksgiving turkey: all you’re doing is just letting the heat out of it. Satisfaction, then, seems the smarter measure, doesn’t it? Anything else feels a bit myopic.

11. What The Hell Is Satisfaction, Then?

Satisfaction is a fond feeling over the entire meal, not just a single bite. Satisfaction is a bigger, broader thing — a general sustained sense of okay, yeah, this doesn’t suck that pervades a given portion of your life. You can be unhappy in the moment but satisfied overall. Satisfaction is bound up with comfort and safety and choice; it’s a longer pull of pleasure, stretched out like taffy.

12. The Satisfaction Sacrifice

Sometimes, you sacrifice happiness to satisfaction — or vice versa. Another bowl of ice cream would make you happy; resisting that bowl and hewing to health would earn you satisfaction. It’d make me happy to go play video games, but I got work to do and that work is to write books and blog posts and Sherlock slash-fic — and my work gives me great satisfaction. Happiness and satisfaction do not always shake hands. You have to choose one over the other sometimes, and further, that choice often necessitates balance — satisfaction may seem like the more important one (I’d argue it is), but you still have to find moments of happiness. You still seize moments of wonder and weirdness and dopamine delight. Each played off the other.

13. Follow Your Bliss

That’s a Joseph Campbell thing — “follow your bliss.” He gleaned this mantra from the Upanishads. This notion serves as a combo-pack of that happiness and satisfaction dichotomy (which I’ve discussed as being separate) — suggestion being you gain a kind of rapture from meeting the universe halfway and doing the things you want to do for yourself. You gain happiness by pursuing satisfaction. Or you find satisfaction by pursuing happiness. Or you stumble around in the dark and are eaten by a grue, shit, I dunno, like I said: THIS STUFF IS HARD.

14. Shame Is Half-A-Ladder

Here’s what I do know: becoming happy or satisfied or being a good little blissmonkey is not a function of shame or guilt. You think, oh, I’m going to feel bad for not finishing my work or for eating that candy bar or using the urinal like a sit-down toilet last night when I was all fucking bonkers on Goldschlager and peyote. Shame is a half-a-ladder — it’ll get you part of the way there, and then you’ll still be reaching for the prize like the fox who couldn’t get the grapes. Coming at your goals and trying to find happiness through shame and guilt is a good way to poison what satisfaction you can muster. Success out of shame is like succeeding in spite of yourself. Better instead to do things because of how they make you feel instead of doing things because of how bad failure feels. Let your failures be instructive and illuminating instead of one more reason to feel bad about yourself. Don’t climb that rickety-ass ladder. It’ll break under your feet.

15. Embrace Why You Motherfucking Rule Instead Of Why You Utterly Suck

SCIENCE FACT I JUST MADE UP: everybody is awesome and everybody is shitty all at the same time. Happiness is trying to focus on your qualities above your deficits — and, moreover, trying to turn your deficits into qualities. Look at life like an RPG: you’ve got a series of stats and special abilities and you, as Lord Thromnagon Drumdragon, aren’t going around moping about your “low Charisma score.” You can either embrace your high Strength stats (and thus cleave to your strength of PUNCH MONSTERS UNTIL PUDDING) or choose to focus on increasing your Charisma score so that every shopkeeper and stable boy doesn’t try to poison your feedbag THAT’S RIGHT I SAID FEEDBAG you didn’t know Lord Drumdragon is actually a unicorn well he is shut up.

16. Someone Always Has It Worse

A little perspective goes a long way. Like I said above: other emotions are necessary to possess. Anger can have value. Sadness can be necessary. They don’t always need to be shoved in a bag and set on fire but sometimes the way we feel isn’t helping us. It’s honest! It’s real! But is it valuable? Happiness can at times be a function of just having a little perspective. Being upset because someone got your coffee order wrong or because you missed your train — well, just remember, someone out there has it worse. Probably a whole lot worse.  Not to say your happiness should come at the expense of another’s misery, but it’s worth looking at this singular moment and trying to see if your emotional response has teeth or is otherwise fangless and just gumming you into a state of unnecessary joylessness.

17. Comparisons Fail The Other Way

Looking up the chain and saying “someone is happier than me” is true, but who cares? Someone always has something more than you. That’s how life is. We’re not in balance. Looking to other people’s bliss as comparison is just a good way to stomp on your own. Be happy they’re happy, but don’t fall prey to comparison shopping for your own pleasure. Their happiness doesn’t diminish yours. At worst, it has no effect. At best, their happiness is happiness for you, too.

18. Settling

The act of settling is weird, right? Because on the one hand, if you’re just settling into life like dust on a shelf, bleah, yuck, why? We only get one ride on the bull, folks. Hold on as long as you can — until that motherfucker falls down in a froth. And yet, sometimes you gotta know when to cash in your chips and say, “This is me being comfortable with what I have.” Because you can’t control everything. Life gives what life sometimes gives you: sexy eyes, a goiter, an inheritance, an STD, two kids who love you, one who doesn’t, I dunno. Is it about settling for the things you can’t control, and aspiring to change the things you can? Is it about aspiring in spite of comfort? Is happiness diminished if you seek it in greater quantity or with deeper meaning?

19. Hard Cash Money

Money might make you happy, but I don’t know that it gives you satisfaction. If it affords you security and comfort, that might do the trick. Just the same, plenty of people are rich and miserable. “I HATE MY INGROUND POOL AND ALL THIS COCAINE AND MY EXPENSIVE WEIMERDOODLE DESIGNER DOG.” Everybody’s different, I guess? You just gotta find what tickles your monkey. Maybe that’s money. But maybe — hopefully? — it’s something bigger.

20. Lot Of Shitty Ways To Get Happy

You can do a lot of things to be happy, and many of those things are pretty fucking terrible. Again that battle of happy versus satisfied yawns its duplicitous maw — it’s like, you might be happy tearing someone else down, or sticking a needle in your arm, or sleeping around on your spouse. Happiness in the moment — that short, sharp shock of guhhh so good — is cheap and easy. But it doesn’t last. As I’m wont to say: is the juice really worth the squeeze?

21. The Happy Vampire

Some folks are the living embodiment of schadenfreude, which is a German word that I think means, directly translated, “To adore when the Sausage of Agony is shoved in the mouth of your enemy.” Or something. Point is, like I said above, some people are only happy tearing other people down. These people are called “assholes” at best, “vampires” at worst, and you shouldn’t be one or invite them into your life. Because they’ll cling to you like a thirsty tick.

22. Happiness Is Soylent Green

It’s made of people. Relationships. Friendships. Love. You can pass that shit along, too, tethering yourself psychically to other people by asking them how their day was, by offering them a bit of sympathy or congratulations or charity when it’s called for. We all have these invisible tentacles we can use to reach out and — okay, this is starting to sound a little hentai. Point is, we’re all connected, and you can feed into the positive energy of others or you can steal it from them. (And this isn’t just an IRL thing, either. Anybody who tells you our social connections online don’t have the same weight or value are probably friendless robots from a Distant Century here to rob us of our joy. CLANKING CRAPTRONS.)

23. Physical Triggers

You can do physical things to open yourself to happiness, right? Like focusing on your breathing. Or taking a walk and getting the blood flowing. Or getting a little sunshine because our bodies leech happiness from the sun’s rays until one day the sun is just an empty, lifeless calcified dustball in the sky and then everything grows cold and lightless and — *is handed a note* — okay that’s apparently scientifically inaccurate. Whatever. Sunshine is good for you is what I’m saying.

24. It’s Called A Pursuit For A Reason

The pursuit of happiness. That’s the saying, because we’re always pursuing it. It’s a perpetual chase — a dog spinning around and around, a failed ouroboros who will never clamp down on his own tail (and if he did catch it, what the fuck would he do with it?). Does this mean we’ve overstated happiness as a thing that has value? Should we instead accept that all of life is suffering and move on from there? (That Buddhist principle is a cosmic version of the “underpromise, overdeliver” school of thought, I think.) Is the chase the same thing as the journey? The end is the end but it’s how we get there that matters. Is that the deal with happiness? Is our search for happiness more meaningful than the actual happiness itself?

25. Go With Your Gut

Happiness is some cryptic shit. It’s a chimera. A faceshifting freak in a room of mirrors. It’s wonderful and horrible. It helps us and it hurts us. It hamstrings us and elevates us. It’s a pit and it’s a ladder. It — and its many forms, be they satisfaction or pleasure or bliss — is a thing so intensely personal it’s impossible to let anyone else tell us how to get it, keep it, or use it. I think it’s worth asking yourself, how will I be happy? It’s worth trying to find the path to satisfaction. And I don’t think that path is drawn through careful study or through mathematical findings. You don’t get happy through a pro/con list. (Unless you do? See? So personal.) It’s in your gut. It’s a feeling, an instinct, and maybe at the end of the day the shortest path to unhappiness is to ignore yourself and all the inner voices that are screaming for you to go left, go left, for fuck’s sakes go left and all you do is go right. Go with your gut. Follow your bliss. Give to others without taking. Be you. Be the best version of you. And share it with the world.

Then again, what the fuck do I know?


53 responses to “25 Things I’m Wondering About Happiness”

  1. Wow, you could totally start a second career as a life coach.

    I think the hardest mantra is #25. Most of us are taught to rely on the empirical and the tangible, so it’s easy to ignore or overlook that little voice in the back of your head that whispers, “This isn’t a good idea” or “Fuck it, what have I got to lose?” Darn it, though, if that voice isn’t right 99% of the time. This is one of the things that writing is teaching me: how to let go and listen to my inner voice.

    BTW, terribleminds is a good example of #22, of paying it forward, and for that, sir, you are truly one of my heroes. Oh, and because you’re pretty much one of the most kick-ass writers on the planet.

  2. Good thoughts. I need to focus some on 15 and 16, because I for sure like to beat myself up over my failings.

    And 19? I’ve heard it explained that once you have enough money to be comfortable (have your basic needs met, not have to fret about money or hunger), more doesn’t help happiness at all. So yeah, you need it, because if you have none, if you are hungry and cold and you can’t feed your crying children, well, happiness isn’t too likely to be happening to you. But once you have those things out of the way, the guy with 250 bazillion dollars/pounds/euros/bitcoins isn’t any happier than I am. Not on account of his money, at least.

  3. Nice musings, Chuck. Thank you. 🙂

    Regarding other emotions: Sadness, anger, jealousy, etc., one of the best things I ever learned was when I was in acting school and a lot of what we did was real squishy and getting in touch with ourselves, and there was one teacher in particular who taught us to *accept* our emotions, then to *release* them.

    For example: I am feeling angry and jealous because I just found out my best friend and my boyfriend slept together. It is completely valid and healthy for me to feel this way, and I love myself and accept my angry self and can love and support myself even through being angry. And once I get to the bottom of this anger, I will let go of it and send it away, because staying angry is no good to me. But the anger itself is *not a bad way to feel.*

    It sounds a little dippy when it’s explained, and it takes some time to really learn how to do this – hell, it can take a lifetime – but it’s one of the best life lessons anyone ever taught me, and I like to pass it along when I can.

    • No, that’s a good way to explain it. Buddhism supports that each emotion is a worthy one and acknowledging the emotion and freeing it is the way to move forward. I wonder if some of us (looking at myself here) hold on to the emotion too long before releasing it, but each has to travel their own road.

  4. Nice one. I pretty much agree although I’d call contentment as you paint it happiness and happiness as you are describing it joy. It’s definitely a state of mind though. Consider the bollocks snugly zipped into the gym bag. Probably best to run away before King Kong notices though.

    Cheers

    MTM

  5. That little piece of eggshell inside the egg goop? My grandma taught me that the best way to fish it out is to use another piece of eggshell as a scoop. Because egg-ish-ness attracts egg-ish-ness. Or something. Makes me happy, anyway.

    I think it is the pursuit that matters, that “happiness” is most potent when it’s an active thing. A yearning, or searching, a constantly evolving state of looking for something. And, perhaps more important, the ability to feel hope and a measure of efficacy while doing so. It’s when we settle in and become complacent or accepting of the status quo, the sameness of every day, over and over and never changing, even if that sameness is a pleasant thing, that we start to harbor feelings of discontent or resentment that others seem to be more actively happy than we are. While we stand still, stagnant in our once happy lives. It is very often a relative thing.

    I do think happiness, or contentment, has much to do with the power we feel over our ability to actively pursue it. Even if we never quite catch it. Maybe especially if we don’t.

    But really, try the eggshell thing. Works like a charm.

  6. Nicely put, Mr Wendig, as always, nicely put. So, if I understand well:

    On anger and frustration:
    Happiness is to be able to put on a Terminator act and exterminate all live instant coffee jars from the planet and beyond, forever.

    On envy:
    Happiness is getting stuck into someone else’s apple core and eating it before the damned rabid racoon you married earlier gets to it.

    On hope:
    Happiness is being sher-locked watching Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman on TV confront a naked dominatrix and fantasising you might have been the script writer.

    *Is handed a note* – ok, I won’t go through all of Chuck’s twenty five commandments and overextend his kind hospitality. But what do you mean by ‘this blog isn’t gospel?’

  7. Good blog, Chuck. Life throws poop sometimes, which gets in the way of ‘happiness’, but on a normal day – I’d say it’s definitely a choice whether you are happy or not.

    Right, I’m off to clean the bathroom – and I’m gonna sing while I do it…See? Happiness.

  8. This is good shit. It might just be the instant emotion in a can you call happiness but it sure helps setting me on the path to satisfaction. By which I obviously mean: I want all of it; the happiness as well as the satisfaction. What I didn’t want is to get a Rolling Stones song stuck in my head, but I guess that’s one of the more fangless unhappinesses out there, and I can deal with it. Thank you for this excellent blog post, Chuck.

  9. Great blog post, lots of food for thought there, and I have enjoyed reading everyone’s comments so far too.
    What occurred to me as I contemplated the meaning of happiness is that often we don;t realise we have been happy (or content?) untill the shit hits the fan and we are really NOT happy – someone dies, or your spouse loses his job or the dishwasher breaks AGAIN and you realise how great life was before it happened and wish you could just have appreciated it while you had it. So maybe happiness (or satisfaction) lies in counting your blessings.

  10. Number 18 says it all for me. Some people think of settling as giving up on better things, but what’s wrong with accepting that what you have is exactly what you need. I don’t have everything I thought I wanted, but I have a husband who still likes me after nearly 37 years, and I still like him. We have a roof over our heads, indoor plumbing, heat and air-conditioning when we need it. We earn enough money to pay the bills, feed ourselves, and have a little left over to neat stuff. We have people who need, love, and value us.

    I figure happiness is a state of mind. Contentment is just a form of it. Maybe I’ve finally learned to relax and enjoy life instead of worrying about getting more of–whatever. Getting past menopause helps a lot in settling ones feelings down, I no longer have those hormones stirring things up in my brain making me mad. Definitely another blessing.

  11. This was wonderful. You almost lost me at “Happiness is a choice.” I was like, oh, no, another goosestepping member of the Happiness Brigade. There’s just nothing like suffering a bout of depression and having people tell you that happiness is a choice. I used to think people like that truly thought they were being helpful, but I don’t anymore. I think they’ve got issues beyond mine. 🙂 (I wrote a whole blog post myself on the subject called ‘Stop and Smell the Platitudes.’ God I hate platitudes.)

    So anyway, wonderful! Gave me a nice satisfaction boost for the new year. Production is my therapy. Working, I’m good. Slacking, I’m in a pit of despair. You’d think just knowing that would be enough, but it’s not. Chocolate in my office is necessary as a lure…

    And what do you mean, boydstun215? I thought Wendig _was_ a life coach!

  12. Wow! This is awesome, and honestly it is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I think you make a very good point with the distinction between being happy and being satisfied. Satisfaction is a very difficult thing to attain. Everybody says to do what you love, but very few people have the ability to actually do what they love for a living. They do their best to find a job that will provide a living for them and from that point on they enter a circular routine of doing what they need to do to provide for themselves without ever actually living. Because of that fact they take every chance they can to grasp at that fleeting glimpse of happiness, and when they don’t achieve it, they fell and they fall hard.

    You make very good points on the settling issue. That is something I struggle with. How do you know “is this the best it’s going to get” in order to settle and find ways to become satisfied with your current situation. Personally, I’m not satisfied. I work a day job as a computer programmer, but I don’t want to spend my entire life as a computer programmer. I want my soon to be open brewery to be successful. I want to be able to quit my day job. I want to become a successful author. Maybe I want to do too much with my life. It’s something I’ve often pondered, but it’s also something I’ve come to grips with as being a character flaw of mine that I’m probably never going to be able to change. I have things that I want to accomplish and I don’t know if I’ll ever be truly satisfied until I do. I guess the true question, however, is whether not I’ll be content with what I have achieved if I ever do reach that point or if my unrelenting ambition will just continuously drive me to try to achieve more.

    Number 17 has been a HUGE problem on my part. It has only escalated as I’ve started to use Twitter more. I originally joined Twitter to try to advertise the brewery and extend my web presence as an author. During the process I have found other people who are already doing and achieving everything I want. It’s very difficult to see their success and not judge yourself on the fact that you are not at that point yet. I try to use it as inspiration instead of something to dismiss my level of satisfaction, but it is very difficult. (You have been a huge source of inspiration for me)

    Well, I made this a lot longer than I had planned on, but it is something I’ve been ruminating over for quite some time now.

  13. Sherlock fanfiction, you say?

    Car lights strobe through the shuttered windows of 221B Baker Street. As the lights cross John Watson, Sherlock regards him like a particularly dirty mirror.
    He look like something blown in off a dusty road, he thinks. In Afghanistan. Or Iraq? His face is tanned, but there’s no tan above the wrists – he’s been abroad but not sunbathing. Bleach blonde hair, the roots coming up, those dark, earthen roots.
    The limp was bad on the way up the stares but he stands now, like he’s forgotten about it. It’s psychosomatic. Born of trauma. He’s been wounded in action, then.
    “Did you, uh,” Watson’s stumbling over his words, “want something?”
    Sherlock finally glances away.
    “Tea, if you don’t mind.”
    Watson hesitates in the middle of the floor. He’s thinking about something, maybe if Sherlock takes milk or sugar, but the consulting detective has no patience for telling people what they should already know.
    “Shoo,” Sherlock says. “Fuck off. You’re free to go.”
    Watson does as he’s told.

  14. I’ll be brief, because to talk at length about my conception and approach to happiness can easily veer into eye-glazing proseletyzing.

    Greek philosophers developed the idea of “eudaimonia”, which translates as “happiness” but also as “human flourishing”. I’ve always been partial to the latter translation as short-hand for the idea. Our concern shouldn’t be happiness per se, but rather flourishing or leading a virtuous life. The Greeks weren’t speaking of virtue in moral terms (good or bad) but rather as a set of desirable attributes that, if pursued and practiced, would allow a person to flourish. Philosophers disagree about the correct set of virtues that will produce eudaimonia, but it’s not a wide disagreement.

    Part of what’s valuable about eudaimnoia is its inherently practical nature. Practice the virtues and you *will* flourish, you *will* be happy. Happiness (or satisfaction) is a by-product of living a virtuous life. The goal isn’t to be happy, but to be virtuous. Happiness will follow.

    Here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry for eudaimonia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eudaimonia

    You don’t have to read the whole thing, just the first half. I’m firmly in the Stoic camp when it comes to virtue and human flourishing.

  15. Such feel-inspired fodder here. I was nodding sagely to myself for a while, then read the words PUNCH MONSTERS UNTIL PUDDING and lost. My. Shit.

    Little bit of happiness right there. Going to go turn left now.

    Ta.

  16. Thanks for brightening my day, Chuck – your words felt exactly like the post-Crimbo pep talk I needed!

    …Although if you want to REMAIN happy, I suggest you DON’T read the latest scoop on the Wonder Woman movie on the io9 site. It’s not good, I’m afraid…

  17. What a darn good pep talk actually. I found myself realizing I incorporate many of those ideas in my own opinion of “happiness” just really not quite put into words.

  18. Fantastic post! (As usual.)

    I consider myself a ridiculously happy person. Much of that came from learning when to say Yes and when to say No. Sounds simple but I was surprised how backward I had it for a lot of years.

    I wonder about the relationship between happiness and age, though. Do more people get happier/satisfied as they get older or is the opposite true? And why?

    • Another nice one, Chuck. If you get a chance to read The Happiness Hypothesis, you will find the Ph.D.s come to the same conclusion. And thanks for affirming that online gaming relationships are no less satisfying/happiness-making than most in social media. /bow

  19. What is a Schenectady Oil Burner? As an Upstate New Yorker I am well practiced in the art of ragging on Schenectady, yet I have never heard of this. Is it a sexual move with a meth dealing police officer with an oversized flashlight?

  20. Hi Chuck,
    I learned that for me, happiness is having the majority of my thoughts be good ones, most of the time. Can I choose to be happy? I keep checking in and try to throw out or convert the bad stuff.

  21. Just an interesting thing I found in my life travels Chuck.

    When I was speaking to the elderly about happiness (it was a questionnaire, part of a clinical trial), they mostly equated it with contentment. There were several studies that came out around that time supporting that idea. I just found it interesting how that differed from what I would have called happiness in my 20s.

    This link is related. http://www.chatelaine.com/health/the-happiness-plan/how-our-happiness-changes-as-we-get-older/

  22. Happiness is working at writing, and making a flash fiction story become a story of its own. Happiness is seeing my editing skills slowly improving. Happiness is encouraging others who want to write to try.

  23. Chuck,

    Try reading Anthony DeMello’s Awareness or looking up Anthony DeMello on Youtube and listening to some of the lectures. A lot of his views on love, attachment, and selfishness vs self interest really resonated with me.

    Where you talk about happiness vs satisfaction he discusses the issue as happiness vs temporary thrills.

    Thanks for the post!

  24. I love this post and everyone’s comments revolving around this subject. Such insight, and for me when the New Year hasn’t started out that well. This really made me think of the phrase “instant gratification” when it comes to happiness verses satisfaction. I can get my Carmalicious and Danish from the coffee store for $6.05 or not spend any money and have the free communal coffee at work. Will I be happy today I didn’t get my morning liquid treat, probably not, but that feeling will go away quickly. Will I be more satisfied in a few days when I don’t crave that routine as much and have saved *attempts math in her head* almost 30 dollars that week by not going?

    On the folks who wrote about each feelings being an okay thing to have and it’s not bad, this is something I am working on with my son. He is 10 and I try to remind myself and then him that if he is angry it’s okay, it is how he handles it that matters. It has really helped the both of us to work through it together. I hope that when we/he start working with other emotions like sadness we will have a stepping stone from anger. Being a kid and getting into trouble I see more anger then sadness at this age. Just remembering that each feeling is valid and not to immediately squash it down but to work through it.

    Chuck, as always I look forward to reading your blog and all of your followers wonderful comments.

  25. […] “Happiness is some cryptic shit. It’s a chimera. A faceshifting freak in a room of mirrors. It’s wonderful and horrible. It helps us and it hurts us. It hamstrings us and elevates us. It’s a pit and it’s a ladder. It — and its many forms, be they satisfaction or pleasure or bliss — is a thing so intensely personal it’s impossible to let anyone else tell us how to get it, keep it, or use it. I think it’s worth asking yourself, how will I be happy? It’s worth trying to find the path to satisfaction. And I don’t think that path is drawn through careful study or through mathematical findings. You don’t get happy through a pro/con list. (Unless you do? See? So personal.) It’s in your gut. It’s a feeling, an instinct, and maybe at the end of the day the shortest path to unhappiness is to ignore yourself and all the inner voices that are screaming for you to go left, go left, for fuck’s sakes go left and all you do is go right. Go with your gut. Follow your bliss. Give to others without taking. Be you. Be the best version of you. And share it with the world. Then again, what the fuck do I know? ” — Chuck Wendig, “25 Things I’m Wondering About Happiness” […]

  26. I like most of this. That being said, knowing other people have things worse than me always makes me more miserable. I get into really, really bad places sometimes. Often times it’s a small thing that starts it off, and it gets out of hand and spirals off into a weird loop of self doubt, and despair for the future. “Someone has it worse” is actually part of that cycle. It certainly puts things in perspective… and then I feel bad for feeling so bad instead of being thankful. I think it’s also important to remember that happiness is relative. Some people worse off may be happier than you. Some people better off may be more miserable. Accepting your unhappiness as a legitimate, and valid emotion can help one get past it. Or, at least it helps me.

    I think, for me, it’s not really happiness I want out of life. I mean, I want some of it, but it’s an above average state, by its definition. To be content is better, I think. Harder, maybe. I can be happy, at least for a few minutes, pretty easily. I can eat a scone, or stick my face in the one cat who won’t rip it off if I try. Content? All basic needs satisfied? Higher level needs doing okay? No negative stimuli to avoid, still mentally, emotionally, and physically stimulated? Much harder. Possibly not possible.

    Maybe the distinction is arbitrary, but, to me at least, there’s a world of difference between being happy and being content.

  27. I spent all of 2013 dedicated to My Happiness Project. I took inspiration from Gretchen Rubin’s play book “The Happiness Project” and set about to figure out what it meant to me. You can read all about it on my blog. What I found out is that a) it’s different for all kinds of people, and b) it’s easier to experience it than everyone thinks. http://www.casondrabrewster.com/?p=1043

    Like anything, worrying about it, won’t help you get it.

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