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The Third Secret to Extreme Happiness

July 15, 2009

This week I’m exploring the secrets to extreme happiness based off a list of the happiest, most gratifying, most joyous, most awestruck experiences of my life. You can read more about the premise here, the first entry in the series here, and the second entry here.

The third category I’m going to analyze is whether or not other people are necessary for experiences of extreme happiness. I fully expected the results to indicate that the majority of those experiences did not require other people, as I’m someone who really values and enjoys alone time (reading, writing, side projects, etc.)

Apparently no man, not even this one, is an island.

peopleWoah! 69% of all my experiences of extreme happiness were contingent upon other people? That can’t be right.

But it is. Other people matter, even for hermits like me. That’s the simple lesson. But let’s dig deeper.

First, there’s something interesting in the data that you can’t see here. Some items on the list that are nearly the same thing fit into different categories when it comes to other people. For example:

  • Watching the movie Primer with a bunch of friends: happiness contingent upon those friends. We had a great discussion afterwards.
  • Watching The Fellowship of the Rings with a bunch of friends: happiness not contingent upon other people. The level of escapism of that film is so high that I had no idea there was anything but Middle Earth for those 3 hours.

The lesson: Go with the flow and experience things as they are. Don’t go into one movie thinking the experience is going to be just like the last one. Don’t date one person thinking they’ll be just like the previous edition.

Second, let’s address this disparity: Why are other people so important to my happiness? Isn’t that somewhat disheartening? That I have a much smaller chance of experiencing moments of extreme happiness if no one else is around?

With the exception of experiences that made me happy because of ego (something I’ll address tomorrow), the truth about the items contingent upon other people is that a lot of them are things that would have made me pretty happy if no one else was around, but I made the choice to welcome other people into those experiences. See examples below.

  • watching a meteor shower in Japan (could have watched it alone, but I shared the experience with friends, our necks craned in unison in the direction of the heavens)
  • ordering and eating pizza with my suitemates sophomore year (could have ordered and eaten it alone, but what made it special was the camaraderie and group rejection of cafeteria food)
  • watching the Cardinals win in the postseason with coworkers at the game (watching at home would have been cool, but to be on my feet with 40,000 fans cheering their faces off? Extreme happiness)

I think the truth here is that you make your own happiness, and you make your own extreme happiness by inviting others to share it with you. If I had the choice to read Harry Potter alone for 10 hours on the day it came out or to read with a friend or girlfriend by my side, I’d choose the latter any day of the week. Even in a shared act of solitude, happiness is doubled.

Tomorrow (the finale): Categories

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