This is a republishing of The Steady Fella Newsletter. Twice a month readers use the timeless insights on passion, productivity, philosophy, and happiness from this newsletter to build towards the life they want.
👨🏫 Topic: A model for making happier decisions
🔍 Quote: James Oppenheim on seeking happiness
📜 Passage: Winifred Gallagher on The Focusing Illusion
We all share a common goal: happiness. And no matter what level you’re at, it’s safe to assume you want to be happier.
Author Tal Ben-Shahar addressed that desire with what he calls the happiness model. The model uses four archetypes to illustrate the impact our decisions have on our happiness.
The first archetype is hedonism. It’s when we focus on the present and ignore the consequences of our actions. This archetype lives by “seek pleasure and avoid pain”. Hedonists embrace the “you only live once” and “seize the day” mentalities.
Eating junk food, playing video games, and watching TV are some hedonist actions. They all have present benefits and future detriments.
The second archetype is the rat race. This is the opposite of hedonism. The rat race is when you choose to suffer now for future gain. Rat racers live under the idea that happiness is a destination. They think that they’ll be happy once they get that promotion or reach a specific body weight.
Studying all night for an exam, working all day on a project, and eating healthy food you don’t enjoy are all examples of rat race actions. They have future benefits and present detriments.
The third archetype is nihilism. This is the worst outcome. A nihilist neither enjoys the moment nor has a sense of future purpose. They have lost their lust for life.
They do things with present and future detriments—like watching TV all day while not even enjoying it.
The fourth, final, and ideal archetype is happiness. In this archetype, we focus on activities that bring enjoyment in the present and lead to a fulfilling future.
Working on a hobby you enjoy and bonding with friends are examples—they have present and future benefits.
This illustration puts the four archetypes on a quadrant based on how they affect our present and future.
To varying degrees and in different combinations, we all have characteristics of each archetype. It’s a fact of life.
In moderation, there is everything right with being a hedonist. Eat that pizza; just don’t have it five nights in a row. Also, it’s inevitable that the right thing to do at times is to sacrifice our present experience for a future outcome. Sometimes you’ll have to stay late at work to finish an assignment. And unfortunately, no person is exempt from experiencing nihilism. We’re human beings, not machines. We’ll naturally experience ups and downs throughout our lives.
While we’ll continue to visit all four quadrants for the rest of our lives, the path to a happier more fulfilled one is to increase time spent in the happiness quadrant.
Spend quality time with friends; work on your passion; eat food that tastes good and is healthy. You want to spend as much time as you can doing these sorts of things.
Tal Ben-Shahar says, “attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain, nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.”
The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance. The wise grows it under his feet. - James Oppenheim
When you make happiness a destination, you never arrive.
Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it. In one much-cited illustration of the focusing illusion, Kahneman asked some people if they would be happier if they lived in California. Because the climate is often delightful there, most subjects thought so. For the same reason, even Californians assume they’re happier than people who live elsewhere. When Kahneman actually measured their well-being, however, Michiganders and others are just as contented as Californians.
The reason is that 99 percent of the stuff of life—relationships, work, home, recreation—is the same no matter where you are, and once you settle in a place, no matter how salubrious, you don’t think about its climate very much. If you’re prompted to evaluate it, however, the weather immediately looms large, simply because you’re paying attention to it. This illusion inclines you to accentuate the difference between Place A and Place B, making it seem to matter much more than it really does, which is marginal.