What is Happiness?
Happiness is not a simple concept. For me, happiness comes from love, learning, new experiences, living ethically, and striving to be better than I used to be. I find that I am happiest when I’m in nature with my wife and my dogs, however there’s much more to it than fleeting, transitory events. Ultimately, I cannot be happy if I don’t have respect for how I live in this world. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that happiness is inextricably connected to moral understanding and striving. I am unable to fully enjoy my free time if I don’t feel that I worked for it in some way and achieved something meaningful first.
Exercise in a beautiful natural place brings happiness.
Enjoying the company of my wife and exploring the world brings happiness.
My dogs are fully present and take joy in simple things. Being around them helps put my problems into perspective, reduces anxiety, and makes space for contentment...an important aspect of happiness.
The Complexities of Success
There are many interwoven aspects of success, and many different definitions. In general terms, success can be defined as achieving the right balances in life. Aristotle spoke of the “Golden Mean,” a balanced approach to moderating one’s behaviors to achieve a virtuous life. The Buddha spoke of the “Middle Path,” an avoidance of extremes along the path to enlightenment. For me, success is achieving a healthy balance between self and others, my career and free time, long-term goals and short-term goals, hedonic enjoyment in the moment and delayed gratification. How does one know the perfect balances to strive for? If anyone figures it out, I'm all ears.
The Paradox of Suffering
Suffering is an intrinsic part of living. We tend to avoid it as much as possible. Conversely, without suffering we cannot truly and deeply appreciate the wonder, beauty, and joy of life. This is the paradox of suffering. Nonetheless, it is no one’s right to inflict unnecessary suffering upon another, and I believe it is incumbent upon us to reasonably attempt to lessen the suffering of others. Our own experiences with suffering can be used as a tool or focus to direct us how to live better lives. The pain of losing a loved one, as devastating as it may be, can serve to bring us greater compassion and empathy when others go through a similar trauma.
The Meaning of Meaning
“Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for." -Victor Frankl
The meaning(s) of life can be vastly different depending on who you talk to. For some, it means fulfilling certain social roles, such as being the best mother or father one can be. For others, it is achieving success in a career or amassing large sums of material wealth. Meaning comes in many forms and represents many things to many people. For me, life is meaningful because of the love I experience in my relationships with my wife and my parents and family, the love I feel toward others which contributes to my desire to lessen their suffering, the love I feel for my dogs and cats, other animals, and the natural world around us, and the love I have for striving toward knowledge, understanding and wisdom even knowing I will always fall short. Love, wisdom, balance, intellectual fulfillment and ethical living are each more fundamentally important than the traditional views of success and material acquisition.
I am often inspired by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Meaning is inextricably interconnected with perspective. The periodic recognition of one's place in the universe, regardless of the specific content of those beliefs, is an important way of maintaining perspective and deriving meaning from our existence.
"The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you." -Neil deGrasse Tyson