It’s commonly accepted by most people that the work you do validates your sense of happiness. Merriam-Webster defines “happiness” as:
1. A state of well-being and contentment
2. A pleasurable or satisfying experience
(2) implies more emphemerality and is not an apt definition of what we think of when we internalize the notion of happiness. The organic definition of (1) seems be a more natural way of interpreting happiness and will serve as the informal definition for the purposes of this discussion.
Even though happiness is inherently good, the problem with happiness, like most things in life, is that we’re always wanting more of it. This is epidemic to almost everybody. As incredibly competitive and curious mammals, we are always on voracious path of seeking more. For the most part, this is actually good: competition breeds innovation and curiosity permits us to be the wonderful explorers of ideas that we are. But when it comes to happiness, we have it all wrong.
I propose an alternative outlook on the issue: be happy first, regardless of the output. You can do good work, but being truly happy enables you to do great work.
The biological confirmation of this is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released by our brain that helps us feel happy—especially in reward-driven learning—but it also plays a key role in our cognitive abilities. By not letting external factors bring you down, a natural disposition towards being happy amplifies your brain’s ability to not only be more receptive towards learning new material, but facilitates your cognitive abilities in whatever you’re doing. This is why being happy is vital to maximizing our mental growth—before, during, and after any activity.1
Even if the biological reasoning of this does not sound convincing, try to imagine yourself learning something while in an unhappy mood. You probably won’t be open to learning that much, will you?
This is why we need to stop this backwards thinking that the output of our work, investments, and relationships sought to substantiate our sense of happiness. Disappointment is inevitable in everything and there’s no avoiding it. What we can do, however, is prepare and react to it in a positive way.
I leave you with this quote from the retired American football coach, Lou Holtz:
Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.
Be appreciative and leverage your happiness as a utility. You’d be surprised by the great things you can achieve when you’re naturally happy.