“Happiness is not about reaching the peak of a mountain or climbing aimlessly around it: it is the experience of climbing toward the peak.” Tal Ben-Shahar
I don’t know what your view is about happiness but maybe it’s not so different from what I used to think about it, until a couple of years ago. I thought future happiness depended on what we are willing to give up in the present. This way of conceiving happiness is based on the principle that in order to build your future you must sacrifice something in the present (and vice versa). In other words: if you want to buy a car tomorrow you must save money today (by not eating at your favourite restaurant because is too expensive, for example). If you want to pass the exam tomorrow you must stay in and study the night before instead of going out with friends. Finally, it is all a matter of “happy today vs happy tomorrow”. Tal Ben-Shahar is a professor at Harvard University who wrote the book : “Happier : Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfilment”. His argument is that the real question is not: “Do I want to be happy today OR tomorrow?” but “How can I be happy today AND tomorrow ?” This means that we should invest our time in activities that make us happy in both the present time and the future. We must look for those activities that bring us happiness while we do them (bring us “pleasure”) and that can benefit us in the future (by bring us “meaning”).
According to Tal Ben-Shahar, happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Pleasure is an essential ingredient for a happy life but is not enough. It is also very important to give life a meaning (“a self-generated purpose that holds a personal significance”). A sense of purpose is what allows us to cultivate a spiritual life. The Harvard Professor agrees that it is utopian to believe in the possibility of doing only things that can bring benefits both in the present and in the future. To better explain this, we can look at two examples: one is work related and the other is more personal. Regardless of the love you have towards your family, and the pleasure you find in your work, there are certain moments, when it will be very hard to find any sort of immediate benefit in what you are doing: a meeting with an annoying boss or an argument with your rebel son might well fit in this category.
Why should we look for activities that can bring us benefits in the immediate present and in the future? We must take the future into account because it will inevitably happen. For this reason, we must do things that will allow us to be happy (or at least a bit happier than we are now) when that future comes. One of the most obvious things to do is to save money to buy a house or simply saving for the unpredictable twists of life. Saving is in most cases very boring as we are forced to give up present pleasures (like buying a new mobile) to satisfy future necessities. However, we can and should be happier in the present. It is easy to agree that we should always opt for activities that can bring us an immediate sense of happiness. If we could be happier now without sacrificing too much of our future well being, why not? Tal Ben-Sharar explores further his argument by quoting different research that demonstrated that happy people achieve more success in various aspects of their lives.
Those who are happier with their lives tend to be and perform at their best and therefore, they are more successful. It is easy to agree with what he’s saying as it is quite common sense. If we think about it, it is hard to meet successful people who don’t enjoy what they do. Do you know anyone that is successful and still hates what he does ? Probably not. Doing things we don’t like is a good start towards not doing them properly at all! Tal Ben-Shahar also says that success and happiness are deeply connected. Not only does being happy help you to be successful, but the opposite is also true: being successful makes you happy. Try to be happy today whilst looking forward to achieving your dreams. Do your best to dedicate time to activities that can make you happy in the present and in the future. Don’t wait for everything to fall in place before you take your stab at happiness. Create your future and enjoy the present.