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The Fourth Secret to Extreme Happiness

July 16, 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, the second entry here, and the third entry here. Today’s entry concludes the series.

The last entry of the series is about the categories that these experiences of extreme happiness fit into. What’s the key ingredient? Does happiness come from entertainment? Nature? Food? Creativity? Let’s look at the data.

category

So according to this chart, if I want to increase my chances of being extremely happy, I should surround myself with endless entertainment, food, friends, and women. Sounds like the ancient Greeks.

It is within these categories that the greatest fallacy of this experiment lies. Although entertainment–books, movies, television–can bring me great joy, they don’t bring me great satisfaction. It’s not gratifying to read a great book. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. If I read a great book, I want to write a great book. And I’m reminded that I haven’t written a great book.

On the other hand, creativity is fairly low on the chart. Does that mean I shouldn’t be creative? No. I think the truth is that spending time creating things, although stressful and often disappointing, is worth it despite the very decent chance it won’t make you happy. There is no such thing as a perfect novel or a perfect film or a perfect painting–there are just novels and films and paintings. The key is to take joy in the act of creation.

It’s when we strive for perfection that ego can (a) kill our creativity and (b) deeply hurt us. So why is it so high on the list? Because when ego works out, it feels good. When you run faster than somebody or get a promotion over your rival or get a better grade than anyone in the class, you feel fantastic. And you remember it (a big part of this exercise has to do with memory).

So what’s the balance here, the lesson? Have a little pride, but not too much. When you get something right, rejoice in your ability to get it right. But don’t punish yourself the countless other times you get it wrong.

Let’s recap. Here are the four secrets to extreme happiness:

  1. Indulge every now and then.
  2. Home is a happy place.
  3. Share moments of happiness with others.
  4. Pride is okay in small, infrequent doses.

Follow that formula and you’re 100% guaranteed to extremely happy. Hopefully.

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