On happiness, discipline and indulgence
This is yet the most difficult of all writing Fridays. Unlike the previous ones, there is no draft, there is no specific topic, and there is no flow of words and ideas coming through my mind faster than I can type. There are no specific questions I can research on books or articles. More specifically, there is no deep thinking about anything. All the ideas tracked in my spreadsheet are frozen in that state of a paragraph and a possible title, with no further development to bring them to life. The list has grown with ideas that friends, family and colleagues gave me for today, that I cannot make into anything longer than a line.
There is a lot of thinking — luckily -, but is chaotic, multilayered, and understandable only to my own brain.
Regardless, I am writing this. Why? I do not have an expectant group of followers waiting on a promised article, and there is nobody paying me to do this writing. And I travelled to Lisbon expressly to meet my family. Yet, I chose to bring my laptop in my hand-luggage-only flight, and take away a couple of hours from meeting them, just to do this. I do it for my own sake. I stick to my own goal because I believe there is happiness in some discipline.
So let me share my thinking on that.
Happiness, if it could be measured, would probably be a balance between self-indulgence and self-control, an equilibrium between giving to yourself, giving to others, and giving nothing to no one. And in all that giving, indulgence, and discipline, we would have to make sure to always mix body and mind.
They say all studies on happiness are inconclusive because, as one article puts it:
“Measuring happiness is about as easy as taking the temperature of the soul or determining the exact color of love”.
But is it really that complicated? Forgive me, my fellow scientists. It probably is, but I like to believe otherwise. If we feel excited and strong when there is a rush of adrenaline, if there is high cortisol levels when we are stressed, if we release dopamine when someone hugs us, and if we sleep well when there is melatonin, and release endorphins when we workout, then we can say there is a lot of chemistry to happiness, and chemistry is very exact and measurable, isn’t it?
If you observe closer, there is also plenty of physics in happiness. It is in the feeling of strength when lifting the weights with my arms or in the speed of my legs when running the track, it is in the touch of my dog’s fur, in the arms of my parents when they hug me in the airport, in the warmth of the melted chocolate my lips touch after coming from an outdoors cold winter stroll, it’s in the tension of my stomach and my cheeks when I laugh at a joke with friends at a gathering.
There is probably a lot I ignore when it comes to the real science behind it, and maybe it is difficult to really get the formula for it, because that which is warm to you might be too hot for me, and the joke that makes me laugh, might be stupid to you.
I do know, however, my life misery has almost disappeared when I have learned to control myself in certain situations, indulge in others, and get out of my own little head to share moments with people. My levels of satisfaction and contentment have increased when I have stopped focusing on myself and have made the effort to be curious and care for others. But these levels have also been balanced when I have said no to others after a row of yesses, to make room and time to be with myself.
Finding happiness is like being a scientist where you are both the object and subject of study. You have to keep on playing with the variables of living until you find your mix, and even if you don’t find it, the pure exercise of playing with all the parts will be pretty much living life to the full and that is where I trust our true purpose is. It is living while we are alive, or is it being alive while we live? I’m sure you get what I mean.
So, if you are working too hard, take a little break. If you have been static, go move a little. If you have been eating too much, do a bit of fasting, even if just for a few hours. If you have been in too many social events, go take a walk by yourself in the forest or lock yourself in a room. If you feel alone, call someone and tell them you need them. If you have been thinking too much about that not-yet-started or unfinished project, stop thinking and start doing. You might find happiness along the way.
Let me finish this by trying to paint with words what I mean:
The wrong image would be the shape of a human, layered in colors that describe what they are like, who they are, how they feel. Each color would be separate from the other by a perfect line. There would be no clear source of where the colors come from or go to. They would just be there. The image would be static.
The right image would be that same human shape, but the colors would mix with one another, not always, but many times, and some would drain from the heart, others from the brain, others from the muscles. There would be colors dripping from a neighbouring touching hand, and colors raining from the sky, and splashing from the floor. The image would be so dynamic that the mix of colors would change by the minute. Each color combination determining how happy and alive we are, or how sad and difficult we are finding things in a given moment. But the combinations along an extended period of time would have a pattern, of brighter colors or darker, of opaqueness or clarity.
If you read this and can paint or know someone who can paint, and would like doing this, let them know. I’d love to see this image being materialized.
P.S. Here’s a video I keep on going back to. You might like it, too: What makes a good life? Lessons from the Longest study on Happiness https://youtu.be/8KkKuTCFvzI #TEDxTalks