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Weekly 3: Are you happy?

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

September 12 · Issue #208 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: Being in a state of constant happiness is probably a mirage, but there are ways to increase your overall happiness over time. This issue explores a few of them.
(~4 min read)

#1. Navigate the happiness paradox
In an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast, chess master and investor Adam Robinson says one of the key life lessons he’s learned is that the secret to happiness is to be fully engaged in your life.
He points out that if someone were to ask him during the interview if he was happy, he wouldn’t know. His attention is focused on the conversation itself, and not his feelings about how the conversation is going.
For Robinson, the paradox of the most important things in life – happiness, love, success – is that you can’t actively look for them.
“If you’re looking for happiness, you’re not doing what you need to do to be happy. If you’re looking for love, you’re not being lovable. If you’re looking for success, you’re not doing whatever it is you need to do to be successful.”
Happiness, like other desirable states, is a by-product – something that catches us by surprise.
In Robinson’s view, if you’re feeling a negative emotion like doubt, fear, frustration, or loneliness, it’s a sign that you need to redirect your attention.
Whenever Robinson is feeling such negative emotions, he asks himself: Where should my attention be right now?
The answer to that question, and his “great revelation of 2016,” is that there are only two places his attention should be: either on the task at hand, or on others.
#2. Showing appreciation has multiple benefits
Author and happiness expert Nataly Kogan writes in her book Happier Now that practicing gratitude is useful because it can help you persevere through difficult times, and also amplify the good in your life when things are going okay.
One simple but powerful way to experience the benefits of gratitude is to show your appreciation for someone through an exercise she calls “I appreciate you.”
The exercise only takes a few minutes, and here’s how to do it in 2 steps:
  1. Think about someone you appreciate. They could be a colleague, family member, friend, or someone else, but without them your life would be less fulfilling or fun.
  2. Take out your phone and send them a short message telling them that you appreciate them, and why. The message only needs to be 1 or 2 sentences, but it’s important to be specific. They need to know what you value in them because they themselves may not realize that they’re important to you, or how they specifically support you.
For Kogan, this exercise is “the fastest way to get out of my head and shift my energy to feel more uplifted.”
But the benefits extend beyond the person expressing appreciation – the exercise also makes the recipient happier.
As Kogan puts it: Who doesn’t want to be reminded that they’re meaningful?
#3. #3. Are you living a meaningful life?
In his book A Whole New Mind, author Dan Pink references the work of psychologist Martin Seligman, which suggests that the highest level of happiness a person can achieve is the pursuit of meaning.
This is the point at which you not only have positive feelings about your past, present, and future – you’re also aware of your particular strengths, and are applying them to something larger than yourself.
Pink recommends taking what he calls the “20-10 test” to uncover what matters most to you.
Imagine that you had $20 million in the bank, or that you only had 10 years left to live.
Would you spend the rest of your days the way you spend them now?
From a practical standpoint, this test by itself can’t determine the course of your life.
But it can be clarifying: if your answer to the above question is No, that should tell you something.
Quote of the Week
“If you have your why for life, you can get by with almost any how.”
- Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Twilight of the Idols
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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