How-To: Increase Happiness, Good Times in Life

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Where does happiness come from? How does one minimize dissatisfaction and create the greatest number of happy moments in life? Last night a friend asked, “Looking back on your life to date, at what points were you the happiest?” A simple enough question, I thought of a list of happy moments, some general time periods in life, some specific events. For me, most included big adventures like moving across the country, starting a new job, completing a first marathon or triathlon, studying music, meditation periods, taking dance lessons, etc. After the conversation I continued to think about the question and my list of things and wondered if there was something common to all of the moments? What about these times made them more satisfying than others? Thinking it through and applying a bit of Zen, the following occurred to me.

It seems that people are happiest when they are either fully committed in “attention” or in “action” in response to the present, and dissatisfaction arises when one sits somewhere in the middle of the two. As such, attention and action can be seen as existing as endpoints on a continuum.

Diagram relating happiness with attention and action.

As an example, dissatisfaction often exists when one simply thinks or talks about problems in a shallow way but doesn’t do anything about them (for example, complaining). Yet, if one is truly skillful in thinking through issues, applying insight and full attention to an issue at hand (i.e. – talking with friends to achieve deeper clarity, meditating on them, etc.) then satisfaction can arise in the midst of this. Furthermore, with insight into a problem, one can shoot past dissatisfaction by transforming insight into committed action.

On the other end of the continuum, happiness in fully committed action (e.g. – “being in the moment”) is easy to observe. When a person is fully engaged in an activity (i.e. – playing a sport, performing music, dancing, etc.) is difficult for them to think or be anywhere other than the present moment. In this sense, it seems attention and action are closely related or can be seen as the same thing, potentially closing the diagram above into a circle.

Given the above, one approach to creating increased happiness might be to look at dissatisfaction in the present and ask, “Am I fully committed in either attention or action to the issue at hand?” If not, perhaps therein lies an opportunity to transform an unsatisfactory situation and create more happiness.

Wondering what you think?