When most people talk about happiness, they give simple advice. Do what you love, minimize your stuff and meditate more.
You’ve probably heard it before, and the advice may vary, but it tends to revolve around finding the zen in a hectic life. I have a counter-intuitive and nearly opposite theory. If you want to be happy, do something hard - like really hard - that’s going to push yourself.
Here’s the problem, most people try really hard to be "happy" by taking out the difficult things in their life.
They work really hard to make their life easier, but they’re still not happy.
Here’s why. When most people chase happiness, they think they’ve found it when they’ve really found ease. They’re not happy. Their life just is void of difficulty.
Things are easier than they’ve ever been at any time in history. Most people reading this have food, shelter, and entertainment beamed straight to our pocket. 70 per cent of you are probably reading this on your phone.
Sure, things could be better, but for 99 per cent of human history, they’ve been a lot worse.
And still, scores of people are unhappy. They have an abundance of "ease", but happiness seems as fleeting as ever. Even things like mental health and suicide are higher now than any other time in human history.
So what happened?
In our quest to push for more and more happiness, we confused happiness with the absence of pain and struggle.
We worked so hard to eliminate pain, struggle and challenge that most people are bored, unfulfilled and feel empty.
They’ve eliminated difficulty, but they’ve also eliminated the payoff, the excitement and the joy that comes with doing something hard that is worth it.
But there’s a solution.
Find something worth struggling for
You don’t intuitively think, "Hey, I need more challenge in my life," but chances are, if you look back on the moments you remember the most, you might think fondly of the things that were hard. The experiences that tested you the most.
- That course that you took with the professor who didn’t take it easy on you
- That basketball team you played on, where you ran sprints for two hours and got yelled at by a coach but built a community of team members.
- That product you built at your job with sleepless nights that ended up making a huge difference to your company and a real difference in a lot of people’s lives.
Those experiences were hard and challenging, but the reward, the payoff was worth it.
Find something worthy of your time. Then embrace the struggle and the hardship, and go after it. Find something hard. Find a challenge, but most importantly, find something worth struggling for.
Then embrace the struggle and see how it changes you.