Making Happiness (aka Embracing Better Problems)
As someone who’s brain is neurodivergent, the concept of “happiness” is something I have wrestled with my entire life. I’ve spent decades wondering why it seems to be something I can’t hold on to.
After reading some key resources and having some enlightening conversations about “happiness” and the pursuit of it (including how the meaning of the word may have changed since the penning of the Declaration of Independence), I’m thinking that the problem lies less in my inability to grasp happiness and more in a fundamental misunderstanding of what happiness actually is.
For years I just assumed that there was something deficient in ME that wouldn’t allow me to possess joy, even when I was living what I KNOW is my best life. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Happiness is not a finish-line, a result, or a closed-end goal. Happiness is a state – something to experience. Happiness is not static, but fluid.
According to Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, the perfect life (i.e. problem free) doesn’t exist. There are people with problems, and then there are people with better problems.
In Manson’s world, problems are not a bad thing. His philosophy states that people feel good and are happy when they solve problems. Since the 70s, Western society has perverted this process by trying to smooth out any problems or insecurities through a “reward everyone regardless of merit” culture. In doing so, Manson feels that the ability to problem-solve, succeed, and experience the joy in doing so has been compromised. If we don’t get what we want, we get angry, then anxious, then berate ourselves in a vicious feedback loop.
This theory connects nicely to a concept I learned about in Dr. Benjamin Hardy/Dan Sullivan’s The Gap and the Gain (another of my recent reads) where the authors state that dissatisfaction comes from feeling that things are being done TO us (GAP thinking). A more productive way of living is choosing to view things – whether we see them as positive or negative – as being done FOR us (GAIN mindset).
Happiness is not a noun, it’s a verb – an ACTION word. Coming back around to the Declaration of Independence, it is the PURSUIT of happiness (an action) that is an inalienable right, not the happiness itself.
Manson’s theory that problem-solvers are more happy resonates with my own personal experience. I feel much better and have a positive outlook on life when I’m taking action; working through a challenge rather than resisting and getting in a thought spiral about how difficult the challenge might be.
In other words, we all have the ability to MAKE happiness.
When I’m in my studio and I’m figuring out a complex engineering problem, I’m making happiness.
When you’re at home and you’re cleaning out the nightmare under your bathroom sink so you can find items quickly and easily, you’re making happiness.
When we call the doctor to finally make that appointment to get that niggling health issue sorted out, we’re making happiness.
Great, right?! But what if you just can’t get going. What if that first step forward feels impossible?
I’ve been there so many times I ride for free (bonus points for my NYC readers if you caught that MTA reference). If you’re feeling paralyzed by ennui, or having trouble getting started and gaining traction, here are a few of my go-to tricks for solving problems and – by association – making happiness:
1) Set a timer for 30 min (15 if the task is a short one, 60min if it’s longer) and commit total focus for the task until the buzzer goes. This is my top go-to. I use it for everything from creating art to admin tasks (in case you’re wondering, yes, I used a timer to write this blog post)
2) Eat the frog first. If there is an unsavory task on your list and it’s f*cking up your entire flow, take care of it first thing in the morning. Every time I’ve done this I’ve gotten a burst of positive energy that carries throughout the day
3) Add music to interrupt that negative monologue in your head. Headphones or earbuds are best. For tasks that require me to use my brain (writing) I choose chill instrumental. For repetitive tasks I listen to all genres. Cleaning the studio? The Prodigy
Canadian alternative music maven, Jane Siberry, said it best in her 1985 song, The Very Large Hat:
It takes two days to get there by train Two days, two days to get there by boat It takes forever, if you go by inertia…
Thankfully, Jane also reminds us that time is relative in the next line:
No time, if you don't believe in time.
(A very nice circle around to my March newsletter where I discussed Einstein time.)
Here’s to making more time – and making more happiness.