There Is No App for Happiness
(Page 3 of 5)
Strom’s own idea of happiness doesn’t revolve around temporary or material pleasures. “We know now that external circumstances don’t predicate happiness. As we know, there are many poor people who are very happy and wealthy people who are extremely depressed, suicidal. What I’m talking about is the daily experience of a meaningful life. I find that when people feel like they have meaning in their lives, they define themselves as happy. They want to get up in the morning. It’s not just a fleeting experience because they had a glamorous holiday or won the lottery or something, but they actually have meaning. Meaning brings fulfillment. So the first imperative is self-awareness.”
This may seem like common sense. After all, most people will tell you that happiness is not contingent on a high salary, cool headphones, or even witty Twitter exchanges. But do we really believe it? Strom tells the story of a young couple who had just found their dream home. The husband wanted to buy it and thought they could afford the house—if he worked a little more. His wife was hesitant because it was very expensive. But this was his dream, he told her. “He did his cost-benefit analysis in terms of money only and went for it,” says Strom. “Shortly thereafter he was working 60, 70 hours a week. He hardly saw her. He started having sleep problems and had to medicate himself to sleep. Grinding his teeth at night. He didn’t have time to exercise, so he started gaining a lot of weight. When she did see him and when his kids saw him he was very grouchy.”
These sacrifices almost destroyed the couple’s marriage, but finally he agreed to sell the house. “She said in a few months it was like he became 10 years younger again. So there’s somebody, clearly, who was thinking it through—he believed he was—in terms of ‘Can I afford this house?’ But he didn’t put any terms of happiness, health, or family into the equation. That is an incomplete cost-benefit ratio.” Though the couple was able to recover and recalibrate, being in touch with their innermost desires in the first place might have helped prevent the stress and drama. Only after we’ve separated momentary satisfaction from long-term meaning and fulfillment can we decipher which goals and actions are worthy of our time and attention.
“We kill time,” says Strom. “We think we can just fill it up with entertainment. The average American watches TV for four hours a day and I don’t even know what the statistics are for video games.” The second in his trio of imperatives involves examining our relationship to time, understanding that time is life itself. “Over here I’ll talk about life as precious,” explains Strom, “as something I want to last longer, as a collection of moments. And over here I’ll talk about time as something that I have to kill. ‘I have time to kill, I’ll spend six hours blowing up battleships on a flat-screen, or spaceships.’” Most of us are familiar with the urge to occupy our minds with easy entertainment. The Gothenburg study found that among young Facebook users, two-thirds claimed they use the site to kill time.
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