Two paths to contentment

Awake early this morning, I thought about life, about pretty much all human behavior, and I saw two major paths to happiness / contentment. I called them the default path and the alternative path.

The default path is what pretty much everyone is doing all the time.

I thought of different aspects of my life:

  • The size of my kitchen
  • The size of my muscles
  • The size of my bank account
  • The love in my life

Whether or not I am content in that area depends on if reality meets my “enough” point, wherever that is.

The problem is that we don’t think consciously about our enough point. I certainly don’t. Advertising + society + hedonic adaption tend to move the enough point toward the right, toward more. If we are not conscious, we can end up as a “hungry ghost,” always searching for more, never satisfied.

The alternative path to contentment involves moving the enough point lower. Some ways to do this:

  • Deprivation. For example, long-distance hiking, fasting, taking cold showers, sleeping on a mat. Once you do this for a time, you become more grateful for what you do have. A small kitchen is amazing in comparison to the kitchen that’s available while thru-hiking, for example.
  • Diversification (of your models). We naturally compare ourselves to our social circle. If our social circle consists of one type of person, with a clear metric of “success” and we don’t fit in to that metric, we might think of ourselves negatively. An antidote is making friends with humans of diverse cultures, ages, perspectives, life stories. There is not one way to live life, there are as many ways as fingerprints.
  • Gratitude. Start a jar of awesome to celebrate small moments of amazingness in life.

If you’re not good at celebrating small things, you won’t be good at celebrating big things either.

Tim Ferriss

Both paths can be useful, and they both have a downside. Relying exclusively on the default path makes you a hungry ghost. Relying exclusively on the alternative path may make you not take steps to improve life. A good life, I think, utilizes a combination of the default path and the alternative path.

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