Dom Christie

Pursuing Happiness

I really enjoyed the recent Hidden Brain episode, Happiness 2.0: The Path to Contentment. It discusses how focussing on attaining happiness can be damaging. The John Stuart Mill quotation referenced, summarised this perfectly:

Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.

The research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi into flow is also mentioned. People experienced feelings of deep happiness after a period of flow, suggesting that when we lose track of our self, we open ourself up to being happy; and conversely, when we check in with ourselves, that sense of happiness can be interrupted.

Psychologist Iris Mauss referenced another John Stuart Mill quotation:

Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness. On the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.

Mauss also suggests a mindset of acceptance and approaching situations with preferences rather than necessities:

I think one overall recommendation is to have an accepting mindset for both our negative and our positive emotions. Don’t monitor as much, don’t try to avoid, don’t try to strive too much for something else. One way to think about this is that it replaces a mindset of “I need to be” with a mindset of “I prefer”. I think we can still have preferences. The problems come in where we tell ourselves, “I must feel a certain way or else I can’t have a good life.” That’s, I think, what we need to avoid. Preferences with a light touch are good for our mental health and well-being. It’s the need and the concern that we want to get away from.