Ralph Waldo Emerson
“An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit.”
Pliny the Elder
“Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.”
There is a fundamental problem with trying to increase happiness.
Happiness is fleeting and uncontainable; it is a state of well-being fed by emotions that range from contentment to euphoria. Unfortunately, these feelings are usually closer to the contentment side of the spectrum rather than the euphoric side (assuming you are sober). And these feelings never last. But this is what most people spend their life pursuing: a state of well-being. A few glasses of wine, 2 weeks of vacation, dinner and a movie, a television show…happiness?
Sure, some individuals try to increase happiness with bigger things like retirement, a pay raise, an academic degree or a sports championship, but the problem with having happiness as a goal is that happiness is a temporary state that cannot be held onto and therefore cannot fulfill you. It leaves you empty. This is why so many business professionals and professional athletes who reach the pinnacle of their careers fall flat on the realization that the simple fact that they obtained their goal fails to keep pumping their life full of happiness. It fails to increase happiness over and over again.
Deion Sanders, one of the most celebrated athletes in history, was quoted saying the following after winning Super Bowl XXX with the Dallas Cowboys: “I remember winning the Super Bowl that year, and that night after the game I was the first one out of the locker room, the first one to the press conference, and the first one to go home. And I remember my wife, Carolyn, saying to me, ‘Baby, you just won the Super Bowl! Don’t you have a party downstairs or something to go to?’ And I just said, ‘Nah.’ and rolled over and went to sleep.
What was the problem? Deion thought that achieving his number one goal, a Super Bowl championship, would resolve his internal struggles and fully complete him. If winning the Super Bowl does not provide long lasting happiness…what does? This story is even more eye opening when you consider that Deion also won the Super Bowl the year before with the San Francisco 49ers.
Now compare Deion’s struggle to the following story about Olympic gold medalist, Dan Gable:
At the World wrestling championships in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1971, Dan Gable won the gold medal in freestyle wrestling. The next morning, Dan’s roommate woke up and could not find Dan. Later, Dan’s roommate said in an interview, “As the rest of us slept in dreaming about our victories or sulking about our losses the day before, Dan woke up early and went out running in the streets of Sofia.” Less than 12 hours after winning a World championship, Dan Gable woke up and continued his pursuit. He was focused on the road, not the temporary parking spaces.
Achieving your goal, no matter what it is, will not by itself provide long lasting happiness. There is no way to windup your life like an old starter motor so that it will keep cranking out happiness without you actively moving forward and pursuing new goals. Any one achievement will not increase happiness indefinitely.
Deion Sanders aimed high and the things that he achieved were certainly capable of fulfilling a person, but he was focused on the product and not the process. He was focused the ‘getting’ and not the ‘doing’. Instead of asking how to increase happiness, Deion should have been asking how to enjoy life.
Conversely, Dan Gable won the World championship and went right back to doing what he had been doing for years. He kept his focus on the journey. He found ways to enjoy life more through his goal. No doubt Dan enjoyed his victory, but it was not his final destination. Achieving your goal in life should be fulfilling and should provide you with feelings of empowerment and peace, but making these feelings last requires the right perspective.
Enjoyment is the new happiness.
Enjoyment is the process of taking pleasure in something. Enjoyment is the action of possessing and benefiting from an action. Here is the difference: happiness is a state that extends from your emotions while enjoyment is an action, or series of actions, from which your emotions extend. All emotions are temporary and can be quickly upheaved, which is why happiness never really exists.
On the other hand, enjoyment is driven by purpose. Enjoyment is fulfilling because you are in control of that purpose and you can control the emotions that extend from your purpose. Enjoyment requires ‘doing’ and it can last for the rest of your life. Therefore, instead of asking yourself how to increase happiness, ask how to enjoy life.
In order to understand exactly what ‘enjoyment’ means, try thinking about the opposite of the word. Think of the most dreaded, yet routine, moments of your life right now. Those moments probably have more to do with boredom and indifference than they do with depression or anger. Anger and sadness can be productive and even healthy when expressed at appropriate levels, but boredom and apathy are never productive. These states occur when your life is lacking a productive purpose that you are fully engaged in and excited about. The state that most of us truly desire is a state of excitement, engagement, and enjoyment.
The best thing about enjoyment is that you can generate it on your own. You can find ways to enjoy life more in anything that you spend your time doing. You just need to have the right mindset, the correct perspective, in order to do so. Here are 3 ways to enjoy life more on a daily basis:
1. Generate your own enjoyment.
Did you ever go to a party or other big event that you were really excited about and then, once you arrived and spent a little time there, felt empty or even depressed? This is because you subconsciously expected, at least in part, for the party to make your night great. This happens all the time. The other guests, the food, the entertainment, the act of getting dressed and ready, everything associated with the big event can make you feel like all you need to do is show up in order to enjoy yourself.
Enjoyment never happens passively. You have to initiate and sustain it yourself. The act of achieving your goal, whether its showing up to a party or winning a Superbowl, will not automatically increase happiness or show you ways to enjoy life more. You have to be the fountainhead of your own enjoyment because second-hand enjoyment does not exist.
2. Enjoy life in the present moment.
Be present. There are Buddhist monks that spend their entire lives trying to practice this concept. Living in the present moment is extremely difficult to master but entirely necessary to practice. Being present requires that you focus your thoughts completely on what’s happening right in front of you. This practice will not only help you be more productive, it will help you forget about your personal fears and worries.
If left unchecked, fear and worry will invariably stain all thoughts you have about the future. Spending your life creating contingency plans for everything that may not work out in your favor is nothing more than planning for failure. It is impossible to answer the question how to enjoy life with even the smallest fear lodged in your mind like a splinter. Instead of distracting yourself with 4 hours of television and a six-pack of beer, remove the splinter completely by engaging in the present moment.
3. Tie enjoyment to pursuit.
Is your life important? We all have a desire to feel significant in some way. We all want are lives to have a purpose. No matter what you want to do in life or who you want to become, achieving your goal will require productive action. Enjoyment is the art of deriving pleasure and achievement out of your chosen purpose. Your purpose can involve business and entrepreneurship, developing as a leader, or learning how to develop others. The key is that you are engaged in the process and are excited about the journey between your initial idea and its fruition.
Finding ways to enjoy life more starts with a personal choice and is maintained by action and accomplishment. Life without pursuit is empty. The great thing about enjoyment is that it is married to pursuit. From now on, instead of asking yourself how to increase happiness, ask how to enjoy life.