What Is It That Really Makes Us Happy?


Thursday, 9.44pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. – Dalai Lama

I came across a TED talk by Robert Waldinger about the longest study on happiness – 75 years old in 2015 – so in the region of 80 now.

Waldinger says that many of us think that what will make us happy is getting rich or famous, preferably both.

But it turns out that what makes us happy – and healthy – is good relationships.

And there are three aspects to good relationships.

First, it’s good if you have a social life – one connected to family, friends and your community.

Second, it’s not the number of connections that’s important but the quality of connections – conflict is a bad thing.

And third, being in a secure relationship in your 80’s helps your brain stay sharper longer.

It sometimes feels like everything we do is taking us in the other direction.

We spend time on our devices, shut away in a private world so that we don’t need to acknowledge anyone else around us.

That private world is filled with pictures of perfection – of carefully curated content that shows up the inadequacy and messiness of your own life.

And, when you see how perfect everyone else has it – or at least everyone who seems to be on your screen – you’re dissatisfied with what you have.

It’s clearly not a good thing – and people were rebelling.

The increase in meet up groups and face to face sessions seemed to indicate a bit of a reaction to how technology was taking over our lives – and not really for the better.

And, for some of us, the enforced seclusion required to cope with the coronavirus has actually rekindled fires of community spirit that had gone out.

In many places people have now met their neighbours for the first time – helped them out – been there for them.

When we are threatened we pull together – we suddenly find that we are stronger as a community and society than we are as individuals.

The fact is that this virus has forced us to change our habits in ways that that we might have done eventually – because it’s the right thing to do.

We should work from home, if possible.

We shouldn’t drive and create air pollution if we don’t need to.

We should look out for the others in our communities.

We should think about families and societies.

And, when things are normal, we’re too busy to do any of that.

And normal will return one day.

But will it be the old normal?

Or will we have learned something from this experience?

Time will tell.


Karthik Suresh

Do You Think That The More You Have The Happier You’ll Be?


Saturday, 8.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We humans have millions of years of evolutionary baggage that makes us regard competition in a deadly light. – Vernor Vinge

I’ve been wondering why everyone seems to try so hard to have a perfect life.

For example, why do we make such an effort over birthdays and Christmas and whether our sports teams win?

Why do we worry about bigger houses and better cars and the latest gadgets?

If you are one of the lucky ones – the ones that have a decent job – then the chances are that most of your problems stem from the things you have than from the things you don’t.

If you have food and shelter then pretty much everything else is an optional extra – so why aren’t we more grateful if we are able to close the door to a home every day rather than trying to get comfortable in a doorway, while the rain splashes down a foot away.

It’s like everyone in the world who can is participating in a giant Ponzi scheme – some kind of con – but it only works if everyone plays.

Take basic capitalism, for instance.

From what I can tell, somewhere in the last 200 years, people figured out how to make more stuff than anyone could possibly need.

So, we invented advertising to get you to want the stuff you didn’t need – and that started a cycle – one that you might consider virtuous.

If you had lived life drawing water from a well, then running water was great.

And if you had running water, have an electric kettle was good, and while you were thinking about hot water why not have your own coffee maker.

Capitalism – in the sense of making things that people wanted to buy created wealth and spurred people to create more things that others could buy creating more wealth – and that particular approach made the countries that practised that very rich – much richer than those who tried to share things equally – because those places tried to control stuff and ended up becoming dictators because it turned out that having power was much more fun than helping others.

And really, everyone still seems miserable – the people who have everything and the people who don’t.

And perhaps it does have to do with evolution – most things seem to end up having something to do with what happened before.

Once upon a time, a few hundred thousand years ago, the resources we had were the ones we found.

So, if you found some fruit, it made sense to eat as much as you could, and take as much as you could carry, because you didn’t know when the next bit would come along.

Stuff was good – a good stone for an axe or an arrow; maybe some charcoal to do some drawings; maybe some skins for clothes.

I’m finding it hard to think what else you might need really – perhaps a cave would be nice.

Unhappiness probably stemmed from finding that someone else had a better stone than you had.

Life was, perhaps, nasty, brutish and short, as Thomas Hobbes wrote.

But then again, we don’t know – perhaps most people lived relatively calm lives, disturbed by the odd flood or marauding tribe.

Anyway, the point is that we learned to hold onto stuff in case it didn’t come around again.

And now, when we have everything we could possibly want, we’re perhaps still wired to collect and keep and hoard.

So, in our personal lives, that tendency to collect and hoard is perfectly matched by an industrial capability to produce and produce.

Ironically, it’s industry that realises that it needs to be lean – you’ll find nothing in a modern factory that doesn’t need to be there – everything has its place and is marked out.

And so there is this cycle – perhaps a vicious one – where we have to consume in order to keep economies going – and we have to buy and spend so that there will be companies and jobs so we can pay taxes and create profits and buy more and more.

And you have to look at all that and wonder what on earth is going on – how have we ended up in this kind of place where we have so much stuff we don’t need and we spend all our time moving it around to make space for more stuff – and then we need more and more of it to get the same amount of happiness we might have gotten as a child when we found a particularly flat stone.

What’s with all that?

I guess here’s the thing.

The more stuff you have the more you have to manage that stuff – which leaves less time to do what you want to do.

And doing stuff that you want to do is probably what’s going to make you happy.

Managing all the stuff you have is going to make you tired.

And there’s a balance to be found somewhere.

Most us probably carry far more than we should.

What can you put down?


Karthik Suresh

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