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Happiness is in the uphill journey

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Happiness is in the uphill journey

Scott Miker

Happiness is a tricky subject. Many people assume happiness is the same thing as pleasure. They think to be happy I simply need to indulge today in something pleasurable.

This leads us towards instant gratification. We don’t want to push off until tomorrow what we can enjoy today. Unfortunately, though, this mindset causes us to sacrifice the tomorrows of our life over and over again to get a piece of that pleasure today.

Happiness is more than pleasure. Happiness is the internal calm, content mindset. Happiness is the confidence that we can be better tomorrow than we are today.

When we take this approach to happiness it becomes obvious that certain elements conflict with these two views of happiness. If we sacrifice tomorrow for a little pleasure today then we aren’t seeing tomorrow as better than today.

With this we start to lose hope. We start to accept our hardships and focus solely on trying to gain more daily pleasures.

This could be by abusing drugs, alcohol, food, power, money etc. We start to work hard in order to get the pleasures, even if it means tomorrow we will be worse off. Tomorrow becomes its own problem and we figure we will worry about that when it comes, not today.

If we flip our perspective and put a hold on the idea that pleasure and happiness are the same, we can start to view life differently. We can start to see that if we are improving and getting better each day we will be filled with a certain blissful feeling that is better than gratification but less potent.

It is subtler. It doesn’t smack you in the face, but it lies there, flowing through everything that you do.

But this isn’t enough for most people. So they sacrifice this achievable internal peace for a little more pleasure today. By doing this they lower their internal peace tomorrow. Because they feel worse tomorrow, it becomes more desirable to strive for that spike in pleasure today, further sacrificing the future.

Done over and over we start to grow frustrated by life. We constantly feel stressed and overwhelmed. To feel better we reach for that instant pleasure that can help us feel good for now.

If we flip our perspective we can start to avoid the instant gratification available today to invest in a better tomorrow. Then tomorrow, we likely have a bit more internal peace.

We can turn this structure into a feedback loop just as we do with the instant pleasure approach. But instead of getting worse and worse each day we can start to get better and better.

We can start to shift our focus and strive to be content at all times but still willing to do the work necessary to improve. We can follow good processes that lead us to happier times, instead of grabbing onto anything good now, regardless of the consequence.

In 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson, he insightfully says, “Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.”

In other words, over time this internal peace becomes so strong that we start enjoying the process. We don’t see the sacrifice as a painful avoidance of pleasure and instead see it as a process to improve and get better.