Imagine that I want to earn one million dollars or sleep with 500 girls. I can look at my bank account when it says one million dollars or know in my head when I get to 500 girls, because they are objective numbers that can be tracked. But how do you know when you’ve arrived at happiness? How do you maintain the happiness that you think you’ve found? As I get older, I’m starting to discover that happiness can often beget unhappiness.
Let’s pretend that your idea of happiness is living on a beach, not having to work, and reading books all day. You spend ten years getting rich to realize this dream. You fly off to the beach, turn off your cell phone, and start reading a queue of many wonderful books.
For the first month you are incredibly happy. You feel the best that you ever have in your life.
By the second month you’re still happy, but you’re getting a little tired of reading. You start to feel lonely and wish you had some beautiful female companionship.
By the sixth month, you’re sick of books and the beach. You decide that the key to happiness is actually living in an exciting city with great coffee shops where you can approach women.
You move to the city, bang a lot of girls, and think to yourself, “Now this is happiness. The beach was too boring.” Then six months later you’re tired of women and wish again for the quiet isolation that the beach and books gave you. Back and forth you go, like a pendulum between two things that are both able to make you happy.
Built into our search for happiness is a poison pill that guarantees unhappiness. This is because humans have the strong ability to adapt. We simply get used to our environment. Painful environments stop giving us pain after a while and happy environments stop giving us happiness after a while. In the latter case, you can spend your whole life chasing happiness, get it, and then see yourself getting unhappier. Therefore having a goal in life to “be happy” will just about guarantee unhappiness. You will do the things that make you happy only to quickly adapt to them and feel like you have to start searching again. You’re no different than a hamster running in a wheel.
I’m a perfect example of this problem. When I was young, I believed that getting laid would make me happy. I was incredibly happy when I first started notching my belt, but with each new girl, I got less happiness from doing it.
Then I thought not having an oppressive corporate job would make me happy. I worked really hard on my writing so I didn’t have to work anymore. The first few months of not working was amazing. I loved waking up past noon and not having any responsibilities. But now I don’t even remember what it was like not to work. Today I find it hard to believe that my old job made me that unhappy.
Then I thought moving out of Washington DC would make me happy. Traveling around the world and making love with many foreign women has definitely made me happy, but even that’s getting a bit old. After traveling to over 20 countries in a relatively short period of time, part of me doesn’t even want to travel anymore. There’s no doubt that DC is horrible, but it has some positives in the form of friends and family that I can’t get anywhere else.
I can say that I’m definitely more content today with my own business, my ability to travel, and my efforts in dating feminine women. It’s something I wouldn’t trade for what I had before, but on a happiness scale from 1 to 10 I’m only maybe 1 or 1.5 points higher now than just a few years ago. Still, I can’t fight the ache inside me that wants to continue trying to find the next source of happiness, the next crack hit, even though I know I will adapt to whatever new positive environment I find myself in.
I often wonder if humans can improve their happiness much more than 25%. That’s still a significant amount, but it’s not enough to completely change your existence. You will always be bound by the limits of the human condition and the chemicals in your brain that get used to the positive stimuli it receives.
So what’s the solution? Should you just forget about happiness altogether and accept any miserable situation you find yourself in? I believe you should do three things:
1. Understand that happiness is something you adapt to. Chase your dreams and try to achieve your ideal as long as you know you will get used to that ideal. You will hit a point where your dream doesn’t make you as happy as when you first started living it.
2. Find happiness today. If you’re not capable of enjoying whatever situation you’re facing now, no matter how crappy, nothing will make you happy. Enjoy the nice coffee shop near your house that stays open late, the library you’re able to read free books at, or the local music scene you’re able to frequent. If the little things don’t give you happiness, then the big things won’t either.
3. Tweak your life is small ways before focusing on the big. If most of your unhappiness is coming from the neighborhood you’re living in or your roommate, try finding a new apartment before you decide to up and move to another city entirely.
If you don’t like the American women you’re dating, learn salsa and try to meet some Latina women before deciding a month long trip through South America that you can’t yet afford.
If you hate your job and can’t stand the work, look for another job in your field before indulging in some rash business idea you read on the internet.
If you’re lonely because you don’t have any friends, look for new hobbies in your city before you book an around-the-world trip where you’ll probably be even more lonely.
There’s nothing wrong with moving to a new city, going to South America for a month, starting an internet business, and so on, but when it comes to happiness, it’s worth going for small changes first that give you an idea how you’ll deal with a big change. I knew that I’d like South American women because of the ones I interacted with in the States. I knew that writing full-time would be fun because I was already doing it part-time. Let the tweaks you make tell you if it’s worth going for a bigger change. Base your actions on thought-out plans, not impulses, or you may find yourself even less happy than before.
Whereas not long ago my idea of happiness was hitting on girls in a cheesy club, today it’s putting in one hour of language study and three hours of writing. I know that in a couple years there can be something completely different that makes me happy, and that’s okay, because happiness is not permanent and is not something that I can hold onto. As long as I wake up tomorrow and do what I like doing, I can’t ask for much more.