I listened to "The Greatest Salesman in the World" by Og Mandino on audiobook a couple months ago. I just started going through it again.
I picked up something I'd missed last time.
He was talking about being grateful for a bunch of things. For love, happiness, opportunity, friendship, family, things like that. But he also said remember to be grateful for the darkness, because it shows you the stars. For sadness, because it makes happiness stand out more.
I read "Choosing the Mountain" over at letterstoafriend, and that one was directly addressed to me, which is very flattering and cool. Phaedrus writes:
I can relate to a lot of what you're writing. I've been facing similar trials over the last few years, falling from what almost seemed like a charmed life, to some real lows of feeling downright friendless, purposeless, and helpless. Unable to be satisfied with what I had, but unable or unwilling to reach for more. I won't lie, it almost broke me. The need to find validation in relationships, friendships that don't inspire your soul, the temptation to trade in your dreams for the more "realistic" ones pre-compiled for you by society... these feelings are the antithesis of my identity, but in the spirit of honesty, yes... after watching several years trickle by, waiting for my Manifest Destiny to manifest itself... yes, I started to wonder how much I was destined, and how much I was delusional.
Bold added by me.
I think this is good, this is important. Look at the exact phrasing there - "how much I was destined" - and that's just it, isn't it? We're not destined. It's only through hard work that we get there.
When things are going smoothly and well, it's easy to cruise. To get off-track. You need some challenge, some strife, some suffering or a kick in the ass now and then to make you really start thinking and planning, really start working and building, doing the things that really matter.
People tend to cruise, to believe in destiny when things are going well. When the sun sets and it's dark and cold, and you don't have shelter - that's when you think, "Okay, this sucks, I need to do something about it." At the same time, maybe you look up for the first time, and see the stars and moon. I think it's in the low times that people decide to do more, and ask themselves whether it's really possible?
No one's coming to save you. No one's coming to give anything to you. No one's going to give you permission.
And I think it's easy to forget that when things are going well. When the sun sets and it's dark and cold, it sucks. It makes you question. But it also shows the stars overhead.
My mind has been scrambled the last couple days. I don't know why, it came on very suddenly. I've made massive strides over the two weeks before - I accomplished about six months worth of work over two weeks. I felt on top of the world. I wasn't even very tired afterwards, I felt good, ready to go.
Then yesterday, just bzzt - nothing. Foggy, almost like confusion. Couldn't focus at all. Strange. I said, y'know what? I haven't had a day off in a while, I'm just going to take the day off. Went and sat at a cafe and listened to some audio for about four hours, walked around and saw the city, went and had a massage, and then sat and ate fruit. Spend like 10 hours in a row just thinking and relaxing, which is good, I don't take full days off very often. I had some good ideas when I was out at the cafe and took some extensive notes, so I got some production out of it too without even trying to.
Now, I wish I could say, "And then I was recharged, and today I was awesome!" But no, I woke up in a fog again. Damn this. I track my time and have some routines to keep me running well, but I was foggy despite it, unable to focus really. Suck, what is this?
I was working, but it was half-working. Now, half-working is a big problem in my opinion. Half-working tires you out as much or more than real full working, but you get about 5% as much stuff done. Yes, 5%. Good work requires something like focus. It doesn't necessarily require the highest levels of focus and flow (though that stuff is very good), but it requires working through the mentally difficult parts when they come up. The worst part about half-work is you cruise through the easy enough stuff, then stumble on a difficult part.
This is doubly bad, because when you come back to your work, you're staring the hardest part in the face. This sucks, you need to kind of regroup and double down to get re-started while staring a difficult or complex part of work in the face. But again, I was in that mental fog and so I start half-working on it, and then I wander off again. And I try to come back to the work, but then - bam, there's this hard problem staring me right in the face, that I already failed to conquer twice.
Seven years ago, I wrote a post called "How to Be Happy. Always." It's pretty poorly written, but starts off with an important concept-- we live in a society where happiness is the number one priority. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No one really questions that, but maybe we should. Is happiness really the best goal we can come up with?
In the time that's elapsed between when I wrote that post and now, I've thought a lot about happiness, and I still think that maximizing it is a bad idea. But before I get into that, let's talk a little bit about what happiness is.
Happiness is an good state of mind. It allows you to be optimistic, to see the good in people, and to be productive. On the other end of the spectrum, when you're very unhappy, you have a lot of barriers between things like productivity and socialization. Clearly, being happy is much better than being unhappy. It's important to be happy. Is there such a thing as being too happy? I don't think so. I've never seen someone make a mistake because he was just too happy.
So what's my problem with maximizing happiness, then? Well, it's the method, mostly.