While chatting to my sister in law, I was hit with a sentence that landed on me like a ton of bricks. It’s something that sat with me for a long time and caused a lot of internal deliberation. It was so simple and cut to the core of what I’ve been trying to discover (I think)… She said:
“To be happy, all you have to do is find an activity that makes you happy and do that thing often”.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t profound but to me it was. It was so simple but actually so complex. Ofcourse if you just do what makes you happy then you’re likely to be happier. To test the idea, think of the converse; would doing a lot pf something that makes you unhappy result in you becoming unhappy? Yes!
Then, approaching the proposition from a neuroscientific angle; doing something that makes you happy creates a neural pathway between two brain cells. The first time you do the activity, the path that the neuron takes between the two cells is like foot-steps in long grass. You can see they were there but it ain’t no path. The next time you do the activity and get that “good feeling” again, the path becomes a bit more worn and so on. By the time you’ve done the activity that makes you happy the 100th time, the pathway is no longer a path but a 6 lane super highway and it becomes super easy for those “good feelings” to pass quickly and efficiently thus increasing the likelihood of happiness.
So, the science stacks up. What’s next?
Well this was the hard part for me. The simplicity in her statement was beautiful but also very challenging because it actually wasn’t so simple. The reason was that to do the activity that makes you happy, you actually had to have an idea of what activities make you happy. This is where I fell down.
My problem was that I’d spent so much time thinking of work and the endless pursuit of money that I had completely neglected my passions. In fact, in retrospect, I’m not even 100% convinced I even pursued any passions properly into my adult life. Instead, I finished university (college for our American readers) and went straight to work. I didn’t pay much mind to extra-curricular activities as I was focussed on getting a good job and then trying to work my way until I had a decent salary. This in itself was a problem as “what is a decent salary?”. I’d never actually sat down and defined what would be the end-goal, instead opting to just sprint on the hampster wheel and try and earn as much as I could. This caused wrestlessness for me as I never allowed myself to rest. I neglegted excercise and sport (something I’d enjoyed at school), I didn’t pursue any creative activities, I rarely did much else than hand-out with my girlfriend. This meant that any pleasureable activities were arranged by here and tended to be going to restaurants. When that relationship eventually ended, I was stuck. I’d forgotten how to pursue fun for fun’s sake. That is why, 10 years later, my sister in law’s words hit me like a punch in the face.
“All you have to do is find an activity that makes you happy and do that thing often”.
So where to from here? Well, I needed to find what made me happy. Read here to see what I tried.