“Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.”
The book Happier is the foundation of one of the most popular and life-changing courses at Harvard. Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. teaches you how to be happier than you are. Through research and scientific studies he draws valuable insight into why some people are happier than others, and recommends exercises you can incorporate into your everyday life to increase your overall level of happiness.
Ben-Shahar believes that happiness is the ultimate currency for any human being. Most people focus on money and fame, falsely believing that these things will make them happier. Happier focuses instead on tactics you can use to live in the present, and set yourself up for happiness in the future.
The Big Idea
Reconciling Present and Future
"Happy people live secure in the knowledge that the activities that bring them enjoyment in the present will also lead to a fulfilling future."
At the core of this book lies The Happiness Model, or as the author likes to call it, The Hamburger Model. Ben-Shahar shares the story of how he was training for one of the most important squash tournaments of the year, and focused on healthy eating. As soon as he finished the tournament he went to get his favourite food: hamburgers. He ordered four hamburgers, but couldn’t bring himself to eat the meal he’d been waiting all month for. His body felt cleansed and full of energy, after only eating healthy and he knew that eating the burgers would make him feel badly. The Hamburger Model was born.
Each one of the four hamburgers represents a distinct archetype and each archetype describes a distinct pattern of attitudes and beliefs.
- Hedonism (Junk Food Burger)– Enjoy the present and ignore the potential negative consequences of their actions
- Rat race (Vegetarian Burger)– Suffer now for the purpose of some anticipated gain
- Nihilism (Terrible Burger) – Have lost the lust for life, someone who neither enjoys the moment nor has a sense of future purpose
- Happiness (Perfect Burger)– Enjoyment in the future and in the present
Ben-Shahar breaks down each of these models further to describe how a person living in each of the four quadrants thinks, acts and behaves.
The society we live in teaches us to focus on the next goal and accomplishment, rather than the present experience. The rat racer believes when they reach a certain destination they will be happy. However the problem with this belief is that rat racers are unable to enjoy what they are doing now.
The rat racer is only rewarded at the completion of the journey. When they finally do attain a goal, the rat racer thinks they feel “happiness,” but it is really just relief. The rat racer then continues to chase after more goals, thinking that will make them happy.
The hedonist is focused only on seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The hedonist fulfils their present desire and gives no thought to the future consequences. Since the hedonist is focused only on the present, they will do anything that will provide them with the immediate gratification they desire.
In this book, a nihilist is a person who has given up on happiness, and is resigned to the belief that life has no meaning. They expect the same sort of life in the future, and are restrained by their past failures.
In this quadrant, an individual is happy in both the present and the future. Although it is not possible to be happy all the time, it is possible to spend time engaged in activities with both a present and future benefit.
The rat racer is a slave to the future; the hedonist is a slave to the moment, and the nihilist a slave to the past. Focusing on being happy now and in the future is the pathway to true happiness.
Setting Self-Concordant Goals
"Goals are means, not just ends. For sustained happiness we need to change the expectations we have of our goals, rather than perceiving them as ends (expecting that their attainment will make us happy), we need to see them as means (recognizing that they can enhance the pleasure we take in the journey)."
Goals help us to create a reality for ourselves, rather than reacting to what is going on in our world. They are a way to communicate to ourselves, and the people around us, that we believe we are able to overcome any obstacle. Setting the goal is a great first step, but it’s often the verbal commitment we communicate to others that helps us achieve happiness.
When we set goals that bring us meaning and pleasure, they liberate us and allow us to enjoy the present moment. A clear destination gives us guidance so we can focus our full attention on making the most of where we are now.
Ben-Shahar suggests we focus on setting only self-concordant goals: those that we wish to pursue out of deep personal conviction and have a strong interest in. In order for these to have the most impact they should not feel like they are imposed on us, but rather stem from a desire to express part of ourselves.
The best way to set these type of goals is to look at what you can do, and be realistic about it. Then think about what you would like to do, and then think about what you really want to do. Finally, drill down deeper into what you really, really want to do and focus your time and energy there.
Crafting our Calling
"It takes conscious and concerted effort to find our calling because we are usually encouraged to pursue what we do well rather than what we want to do."
When it comes to crafting your calling, look at three main factors: Ben-Shahar calls this the MPS process or the Meaning, Pleasure, and Strengths Process. Searching for work that amplifies our passions and strengths can be challenging, so asking these three questions can help to craft your calling.
- What gives me meaning?
- What gives me pleasure?
- What are my strengths?
Examining the answers and identifying any areas of overlap can help to determine the type of work that could make you happy. It is important to understand that is it not just the work we do, but how we perceive work as well. When it comes to happiness in the workplace, it is our responsibility to find the right role and create the right conditions for ourselves.
I found this book insightful, and it was interesting to see all the studies the author conducted, especially in reference to the number of people who do not show increased happiness with the attainment of wealth. Through, The Hamburger Model, Ben-Shahar took a fun and delicious approach on identifying each of the archetypes. I also learned that I do fall into the trap of being a rat racer most of the time and need to make a habit to focus on goals that I enjoy now and in the future. This book provided a lot of valuable lessons anyone can take away and apply to their life to be happier, than they are now.
What are you doing to become Happier?