Deconstructing Happiness

April 4, 2022

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Everybody wants to be happy. Nobody wants to suffer.

This premise has been repeated, remixed, and revised from the days of the Buddha up to the modern-day shelves of self help.

I’m certainly not an expert on happiness, but like many of you, I continue to read, learn, and explore this topic, and try to digest what it means for me day-to-day.

One great thinker I’ve come across on this topic is the late Dr. Gordon Livingston, an author, psychiatrist, father, veteran, and much more.

In his 2004 collection of essays, “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart," he boils down the complex subject of happiness into a simple framework that resonates deeply with me.

"The three components of happiness are something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.” 

Let’s boil this down..

1) Something to do

You don't need a job that is changing the world, you just need work that is meaningful to you.

If you feel it's useful, it can increase your happiness.

Spending time finding work, volunteer activities, or anything that you feel is purposeful to you will be a great investment with increasing returns on happiness.

2) Someone to love

Decades of scientific research and millennia of lived human experience all point to the central importance of relationships in our lives.

Friends, family, and even colleagues — nurturing these relationships is the most proven path to happiness.

3) Something to look forward to

We also love dreaming about our future. 

Whether it's an upcoming trip, or a fun plan with friends, having moments we can look forward to helps us stay happy and grounded through life's inevitable difficulties.

The map is not the territory

Now a framework is just a map, and as the old saying goes, “the map is not the territory.”

Happiness is a word, a feeling, a state of being that we may never pin down to a pithy quote we can throw on a bumper sticker. 

But I do believe that using Dr. Livingston’s guide has helped me simplify my own approach.

I’m grateful to have work that I find purpose in, relationships that matter, and plans I can look forward to.

This doesn’t mean I’ve instantly achieved enduring happiness,  but when I feel the inevitable wobbles of life, I can go back to these three components and see if I need to fill up one of these cups.

Thanks for reading.

Words of Wisdom

"The three components of happiness are something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. Think about it. If we have useful work, sustaining relationships, and the promise of pleasure, it is hard to be unhappy." — Dr. Gordon Livingston