Happiness Is Irrelevant

My whole life I have had depression. When I was younger it was really bad but it really hit it’s peak when I was about 20. I remember thinking how great things were going in my life. I had a girlfriend, a lot of friends and I was working a bullshit summer job but I enjoyed it. Despite this I felt overwhelming depression and when things in my life got worse my depression got worse. A break up and two break downs later I had dropped out of college and found myself on some anti-depressant meds that ended up working pretty well. I went back to college, got my degree and by the time I was 27 I was living in NYC and I had stopped taking the meds completely and had never been “happier”.

So what changed? The meds helped for a while… they at least stabilized me when I was at my worse and the move to NYC was fantastic for me. I had always wanted to live in NYC and pretty much the moment I moved here I knew it was at home. But I’ve been off meds for more than 5 years and New York’s charm has worn off a bit, but I am still “happier” than I have ever been. How did I do it? I made a conscious decision to not prioritize happiness. I decided living an interesting life was far more important than being happy. If I have depression, I am always going to be depressed so why try to fight that? I decided just to live an interesting life and if bad things happen I can just write it off as a new experience. The horrible break up I went through when I was 21 made me realize that even the worst pain fades eventually and that when bad shit happens you can to some degree move past it. Humans are very adaptive and can deal with anything. You just keep moving and everything will be fine.

I just decided that I didn’t care about happiness and that somehow made me happier. I was able to deal with depression with a realization that in the future whatever was bothering me wouldn’t make that much difference. If I get mugged tonight I might have a black eye and $100 less dollars but a year from now all that I will have is a cool story about getting mugged. I don’t let myself get upset about parking tickets and broken cell phones and the little bullshit in life because I know that in 6 months none of that shit will have any effect on my life. I go to events I hate because I know that the great photos I get will be all that remains and the lack of sleep and bullshit I had to deal with won’t make any difference in the long run.

The whole thing sounds pretty stupid and fairly reminiscent of a t-shirt worn by one of the kids on my high school wrestling team had “Pain is temporary but glory lasts forever”. The idea of just ignoring happiness and wishing away sadness is easier said than done, but it has some real scientific basis. I recently read The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely. Ariely was burned severely as a teen and has spent his entire life dealing with crippling pain but he was able to deal with it and lead a reasonably happy life. Much of his book is about the adaptability of man and how no matter how good or bad things are in life they eventually average out. He talks about how people who move from a cold weather climate to a warm weather climate are much happier for a few months but eventually they get used to it. The same thing works in reverse. If you move from LA to North Dakota you might hate it for a while but you eventually get used to it.

I had this idea in my head that if you are a innately happy person you are going to be happy no matter what your situation and if you are an unhappy person, nothing material is going to make you happy. Ariely’s research seemed to back this up but it wasn’t until I saw a TED talk by Dan Gilbert about happiness did I want to blog about it.

Gilbert talks about the science of happiness and how you can trick yourself into being happy and that false happiness is just as valid as natural happiness. Humans overestimate how happy or unhappy things will make them. He talks about how a year after someone wins the lottery or becomes a paraplegic their happiness returns to where they were before their change in fortune. His argument is that you can trick yourself into being happy. My argument is that happiness is bullshit and you just shouldn’t prioritize it.

If you aren’t happy, don’t look for happiness. Look for something else that give you meaning. Ignore happiness. Lead an interesting or meaningful life and in the long run you might end up happier than you think you can be.

Ps. Sorry for this rant but this is exactly what these new DBB B-Sides are all about. It’s a place that I can blog about anything without fucking up the main page of my site.

« | »
Comments (1)


  1. Barry
    January 31st, 2013 | 9:01 pm

    That (your wrant) was quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a reply