Source: Wikipedia

This is another post on philosophy, take that as you will.

I went out with a couple of co-workers last Friday, and naturally the conversation eventually ended up on my living situation. I've been continually surprised at how receptive people are to the whole concept of living in a car, normally once I explain all of my motivating factors. Mainly, I get a lot of "That's really great! I personally could never do something like that, but power to you for going through with it!", and that's vaguely encouraging for me. Coupling these conversations with all of the time I have for reflection, I've come to realize a few things about happiness.

But first off, before I get into this, I'm going to paraphrase a quote from the movie Pursuit of Happiness, with Will Smith. The quote goes something like:

The Founding Fathers wrote that we are all entitled to "the pursuit" of happiness as a basic fundamental human right. They specifically didn't say that we're entitled to happiness, because everyone seeks happiness in different ways.

-(kinda) Will Smith, Pursuit of Happiness

Defining Happiness

What is happiness, and what does it actually mean to be happy? At a rote biological level, it's just a specific concentration of various chemicals in various parts of your brain, an evolutionary construct loosely coupled with the concepts of risk, reward, and feedback systems. But that's a boring way to look at happiness, and it totally misses the point. Happiness is a unit of fulfillment. Being happy means that you've established some metric for how you want to conduct yourself, and you're following that metric pretty well. It's how we let ourselves know we're satisfied with our situations, a bit of feedback saying, "Hey, I'm okay with the way that things are going". Conversely, if you aren't happy, it's generally a sign that something needs to change in your life, or you need to reevaluate your metrics for happiness. And naturally, as the diverse bunch of human beings that we are, we all have slightly different metrics for happiness.

A Metric for Happiness

Alluding back to what I said in an earlier post, we are constantly being conditioned to think that happiness correlates with how much stuff you have. We treat consumption as if it's the only way to add value and meaning to your life. Even worse (in my opinion), it's not even just about how much you have, it's about how much you have relative to those around you. Indulging in our primal urges for supremacy, we're conditioned to believe that we should only be truly happy with ourselves when our television is at least 4" larger than our neighbors', or when we're the first ones to get the newest iPhone, or when we have landscapers cutting our yards and our neighbors don't. To put it in frank (and mildly vulgar) terms, we're constantly engaged in a dick measuring contest with those around us, and some more good ol' "natural male enhancement" is only a credit card swipe away. And you know what?

There's nothing inherently wrong with that.

Now certainly, as you can tell from how I'm writing this, this isn't what brings me happiness. But who am I to say it's wrong? If it legitimately brings someone else joy to own more things, regardless of whether or not they need them, why should I trample all over their happiness? It's not my place, and (aside from all of the child and slave labor camps they're indirectly funding), who are they really hurting? That said, I think if we all took a moment and stepped back from our everyday existences to introspect and figure out what genuinely added meaning to our lives, I don't think "buying stuff" would come out at the top of the list. I really don't.

My Pursuit

The way I pursuit, and find happiness, is by going to sleep a better person than I was when I woke up. I want to add value to myself, in the form of knowledge, health, and ability every day. In business-esque terms, I'd like to be an appreciating asset. Without trying to sound too much like Ayn Rand, I firmly believe if you work on bettering yourself, the world around you will thrive as a result. And following in that vein, I try to treat myself properly. You only get one body, you're doing yourself a huge disservice if you aren't actively working to keep it functioning well. Exercise, eating right, sleeping well, and removing stress from your life do absolute wonders for every other aspect of your life.

Now this isn't to say that you shouldn't be happy and content with yourself. On the contrary, I believe it's about realizing that we're all fallible and we're all flawed, and that's perfectly fine. It also means that there are always things we can do to be "better" people, in whatever ways we think make us "better". And that's why I think it's important to reflect on what happiness means to each of us, because if we can actually get down to the root of it, we can throw away all the noise and fluff and clutter, and focus on living our terrifyingly short lives in the way that makes them the most fulfilling, and the best they can be.

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