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A Good Life Need Not Be Exciting
And an exciting life need not be good
When the quarantine first started, the prospect of having to spend all day locked up at home loomed largely. I wasted away the first few weeks gaming, watching YouTube on autoplay, and scrolling through social media feeds for the most part.
I remember sitting on my haunches every evening and sifting through my contacts to find someone, anyone to call. I had become bored of being bored.
Fed up, I decided to make the most out of the situation. I discovered new passions such as writing on Medium and rekindled old ones such as reading.
Before I even knew it, I found myself busy all day and enjoying my days. I went from desperately trying to kill time to gasping for time.
Now the lockdown’s lifted. Restaurants, pubs, movie theatres, and other places of recreation have opened up. Everyone's moving about but I don’t feel the tug to run around outside like I used to.
My present daily life is something most would term “boring” but it makes me happy, in fact much more than my pre covid life which included binge-watching, going out, staying up late into the night, etc.
The Fundamental Distinction We Need to Make
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a good life? Wads of money, exotic meals, expensive clothes, supercars?
I would have said the same a year or so ago but I’ve come to realize that a pleasurable life needn’t be a happy life. More often than not, pleasure doesn’t give us happiness.
In fact, happiness might be the opposite of pleasure. The most pleasurable things often make us the most unhappy deep down. No wonder that most addicts are unhappy.
“In fact, happiness might be the opposite of pleasure.”
Binge-watching until my eyes become watery pools of red or puffing smoke until my head buzzed like a beehive felt good but only as long as they lasted. When the “high” came down, the low would set in — guilt and miserableness and the low lasts much longer than the high.
This is what makes addiction dangerous — the strong desire to constantly sustain the high only prolongs the inevitable low.
What actually makes us happy:
It was after reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl that I realized the importance of meaning. In fact, the Will to Meaning is widely believed to be the primary driving force in human beings.
“Binge-watching until my eyes become watery pools of red or puffing smoke until my head buzzed like a beehive felt good but only as long as they lasted.”
So happiness is a direct side effect of doing meaningful things. Binge-watching a TV series is a pleasure, spending hours crafting an article with the intent to provide value to my readers is happiness.
Devouring a tub of Baskin-Robbins is a pleasure, eating a healthy meal that contributes towards my goal of staying fit is happiness.
“So happiness is a direct side effect of doing meaningful things.”
So what about pleasure?
I am no ascetic to renounce pleasure. Hell no! Not even close. A life devoid of pleasure is as bad as a life filled with only pleasure.
You’ll still find me licking a tub of Butterscotch ice-cream clean, out partying with my friends, or midway through a 6-hour binge marathon.
But only after a week of mostly clean eating, getting in my workouts, and wrapping up my work. Earning my pleasures somehow makes them much more pleasurable.
It’s a simple reordering — put happiness before pleasure and both are amplified. Put pleasure before happiness and both are reduced.
“Earning my pleasures somehow makes them much more pleasurable.”
Take a Step Back
The itch to conform to societal standards and norms is strong in us homo sapiens. So strong that we are even willing to accept something we know is wrong as right just to conform.
Let’s try something simple — which among A, B and C are the closest in length to the target line?
Clearly C, only a blind man could go wrong, right?. What if you were put in a room of people and everyone else answered B. Would you still stick by C?
If you said, “Obviously, who wouldn’t?” then, my friend, you are in for a surprise. In Solomon Asch’s conformity experiments, precisely this was performed and 32% of the participants changed their answer to B.
Yes, that’s just how strong the urge to conform can be.
Don’t kill your identity.
Looking back, it’s clear. I was never a big fan of partying, traveling, or attending large social gatherings. The only reason I did was I felt I “needed” to.
“But what is society? It’s everyone except you.”
Getting lost in a book or having a wholesome intellectual conversation with a small group is more like my thing.
Most of us have things we secretly enjoy doing but are too ashamed of admitting due to the fear of being labeled “lame”, “boring”, “childish” or “queer”.
But who’s setting the standards? Society? But what is society? It’s everyone except you, as Ayn Rand said. The funny thing is when this definition is applied to everyone, society turns out to be no one.
“Trying to “fit in” is smothering the very things that make you you.”
There’s no need to try to fit in, We are all born different, look different, and similarly enjoy different things. It’s the unique things that make up our identity and make us stand out.
Conforming or trying to “fit in” is smothering the very things that make you you.
So take a step back and ask yourself, “Am I doing things that make me happy or doing things that are supposed to make me happy?”
The next question to ask yourself:
Next, mull over the question, “What are the things that actually make me happy?”. For me, the things that make me happy and constitute a good day are:
8+ hours of sleep.
At least an hour of reading
Smashing a heavy workout
Getting some writing done
Some quality family time
A wholesome conversation or two
A hot shower
A very normal day isn’t it but that’s just how it is. More often than not, it’s the simple “unexciting” or mundane things that afford us the most happiness.
Largely thanks to the media and the internet, we have been led to believe that a good life is supposed to be an exciting life but that can’t be further from the truth.
Put happiness before pleasure. Pleasure is a feeling, a short burst of dopamine while happiness is a state that ensues from doing meaningful things. “Earn” your pleasures by first doing things that make you happy.
Don’t give in to the urge to conform. The urge to conform is pretty strong in us humans but don’t give in to it. Ask yourself, “Am I doing things that make me happy or doing things that are supposed to make me happy?’
Find and do things that actually make you happy. Think about and list the things that actually make you happy. They are most likely to be the “unexciting” things. Focus your day and life around these things.
My friend, I know that I missed sending last week’s self-scaler but Sunday was a bad and exhausting day for me - Being out for the most part and a personal tribulation left me both emotionally and physically drained.
Again, it isn’t an excuse so I’ll make it up this week - This week’s Scaler will be the best yet!
Thanks for understanding and thanks even more for being a part of this vibrantly positive community!