Some time ago, I found myself ruminating on a pertinent question; one I have asked myself multiple times. I’m pretty sure you might have asked yourself the same question if you’re a thinker like me. What do I really want in life? It’s interesting though. For many people, whenever this question pops up, they can’t really give a straight answer. Not everyone has a clear idea, they don’t really know. The most likely answer you’ll hear is: “Happiness. I just want to be happy”.
But Happiness is a rather broad term, one that covers a range of other things like joy, contentment, pleasure, satisfaction. And as there are several paths to happiness, we need some clarity on the path we wish to pursue in order to optimize all our thoughts and actions. Because if we want to get the most out of life, we have to be clear about the things we want.
In the spirit of clarity, let’s do a high-level breakdown of the human pursuit of happiness:
- Financial Sufficiency
- Happy relationships
- Some level of Comfort
- A life of purpose
Is in itself a worthwhile pursuit. It involves earning enough to cover one’s living expenses and still managing to save and invest. From Financial Sufficiency, one may start to work towards financial independence, and ultimately freedom. With freedom comes the ability to live on one’s own terms. Freedom is the only reason I envy wealthy people. Not because they have a lot of money and can afford what they want, but because they are free to live life on their own terms.
The road to financial freedom is marked by financial literacy and frugality. Unless you’re lucky enough to start a business or side hustle that generates a lot of money, you’ll probably need to save a chunk of your salary and invest wisely over the long term.
While in pursuit of a better life, be careful though. If your primary motivation for pursuing wealth is so you can buy more expensive things and own expensive cars and houses, then you’re doing it wrong. In fact, you’ve subjected yourself to the hedonic treadmill. Because the human psyche quickly adjusts to lifestyle changes and those material things we crave for so long no longer contribute to our happiness. That fancy car you’ve always wanted and finally acquired, pretty soon you’ll look at it with utmost boredom. We are wired to always adjust.
This doesn’t mean we should desist from acquiring expensive things. The point is: the pursuit of financial freedom should be geared towards creating better life experiences for ourselves.
On Happy Relationships
Indeed, relationships lie at the core of our human experience. The typical human yearns for genuine connection. To be seen, heard, and understood. A lot of things about us are guided by the input we receive from those we interact with. We learn from our social environment.
Right from the moment we were as children, and our earliest interactions happened with our parents. We drew on these contacts with our parental figures in order to understand ourselves and the larger world around us. It is no surprise that our personalities as kids were largely influenced by our interactions with our parents. For instance, kids who enjoy cordial relationships with their parents generally tend to be more confident, and vice versa.
Fast forward from childhood into adulthood. The quality of relationships you enjoy at every point in time translates in direct proportion to the quality of your life. We tend to seek out relationships with people who are like us. Like minds, kindred spirits. People who generally see the world the way we do.
I will stress though, that while it might be the default human behavior to seek out like minds, we should be cognizant of the need to establish relationships with different kinds of people. This will help vary the content of our social input and allow us to draw inspiration from different kinds of sources.
The dictionary defines comfort as a state of ease, freedom from pain. Comfort is also a state of physical and mental well-being. But the thing is, comfort can be viewed as subjective. What feels like comfort to one individual can be very different for another. I believe this stems from the inherent differences in individual personalities and ambitions. Our desire to achieve certain things in life can cause us to feel discomfort until we attain such achievements.
Regardless, we can look to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to gain a better understanding of comfort.
Maslow’s hierarchy places the most basic needs at the bottom with the idea that each level in the hierarchy must be satisfied before an individual can proceed to a higher level. During the course of an average individual’s lifetime, their primary goals can shift between levels.
A life of Purpose
You probably have heard the saying before: the purpose of life is a life of purpose. It may seem like an oversimplification. But on closer scrutiny, one can begin to understand the reasoning behind the statement.
Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning popularised the idea that a life of purpose was a life worth fighting for, and would endure even the most adverse circumstances. Back in the German concentration camps of World War 2, conditions were incredibly hard. And for a prisoner facing bleak prospects, the difference between life and death could rest on their ability to maintain a positive outlook; one that will enable them actively seek out moments that could draw them closer towards said positive outlook.
Frankl’s book garnered some criticism for perpetuating the notion that people who survived the concentration camps were more optimistic about life, and people who died had given up. Still, we can translate his core message to a more general framework. The idea being: if we stay optimistic and positive about life, with an overarching sense of purpose, we are more likely to go very far.
So much can be said about the pursuit of happiness and what people generally want out of life. Countless books have been written on the subject. On this note, I’ll like to add my 2 cents. Here’s a list that could work for most people:
- Identify the things you really want out of life. If you don’t know yet, it’s fine. No pressure. Jump to Step 5.
- Develop systems and strategies to help you achieve your goals.
- Be consistent in your execution towards devised goals. It helps if you can be accountable to someone other than yourself. If and when you lose momentum or consistency, don’t give up; simply pick up where you left off.
- Review progress. Introspect. Reflect. Learn from mistakes. Stick with what works, throw away what doesn’t work.
- Spend time with good people including those who bring out the best in you.
- Go back to step 1.
When all is said and done, here’s the fun fact: life isn’t always about goals and ambitions. You may decide you just want to live each day as it comes. You may decide you want to live your life for your loved ones and make tons of memories. That is a very good life if you ask me. In fact, that’s the best kind of life in my opinion: a life that positively impacts others. Whatever your ambitions in life, one of them should be to do epic shit with (and for) your loved ones. Shit you can be proud of as you lay in your deathbed someday and drift off into sleep.