Articles, Mind & Body

Measuring success, happiness + 3 ways to boost happiness

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As kids, some of us may have had a clear idea of what it was that we wanted to do when we grew up. Others, like myself, wanted to do a bit of everything. But whether we decided that our life’s pursuit was excellence in a specific field, or a breadth of experience in various ones, when we grow up, don’t we all just want to be happy?

Now with today’s rapidly advancing technology, easy access to information, and global connectivity, it seems we have more resources to grow our knowledge and skills, and less excuses to be “unsuccessful”, according to commonly held measures. At the same time, we’re also fed with so much more on our Facebook feeds about the excellent (albeit carefully curated) lives that our Facebook friends lead, and devote much less time to thinking about (and doing) the things that make us truly happy.
Photo c/o memegenerator

In an article entitled Nobody Knows What The Hell They Are Doing, writer Oliver Burkeman talks about how social media is more similar to a personal highlight reel rather than behind-the-scenes footage when he says:

“We use [social media], naturally enough, to showcase the best parts of our lives: the joyous weddings and enviable vacations, the finished projects, and testimonials from satisfied clients. But we forget that we’re only seeing everyone else’s highlights, too—not the sleepless nights, the abandoned attempts, the moments of despair and self-doubt.”

Is busy-ness equivalent to productivity?

Going around circles with highly accomplished Type A individuals, one definitely feels the pressure to constantly be at work, or as they say “be productive”.

“Being constantly the hub of a network of potential interruptions provides the excitement and importance of crisis management. As well as the false sense of efficiency in multitasking, there is the false sense of urgency in multi-interrupt processing.”
– Michael Foley, The Age Of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes It Hard To Be Happy

There is a difference between working hard and working smart, a distinction I’ve yet to be fully acquainted with. I feel that working smart involves, quite paradoxically doing less – devoting a few hours to work, yet dedicating them to more meaningful, purposeful, impactful actions. It is not necessarily getting a million tiny tasks done from morning to night, which oftentimes leave you wondering what you had really managed to accomplish at the end of the day.

The best productivity trick of all? Do less.

Can money or recognition buy happiness?

Time and again, we hear stories about wealthy individuals with several homes and cars, who travel frequently, and yet lead lives of quiet desperation. In spite of all the material possessions those considered successful have, we are told that many of these individuals are weighed down with a profound unhappiness, feelings that may sometimes culminate in attempts to make a final escape.

In the highly entertaining TED talk on the happy secret to better work, psychologist Shawn Achor shares:

90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can do is change the way that we can then affect reality.”

He argues that success doesn’t bring happiness, and that conversely, choosing to see things with happier, more positive lenses can ultimately help us achieve “success”, and do what we already do better. “Because dopamine, which floods into your system when you’re positive, has two functions. Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way,” he adds.


So how can we be happy?

  • Do less. Define success on your own terms and prioritize that which truly matters to you.
  • Live simply. Choose to spend on meaningful life experiences vs. temporary material clutter.
  • Be present. Notice where you are, appreciate what you have, and immerse yourself in what you are doing. And if all those aren’t working for you, or if you feel your situation sucks, change it. Otherwise, change the way you perceive it.
Illustration c/o Foodie Underground

All of these may seem counterintuitive in a society where accomplishments and possessions are treated as the most important indicators of success. Now, making the adjustments described above is easier said than done. However, it’s important to remind ourselves of this every now and then because we might often find ourselves like hamsters on a wheel, asking ourselves what the hell it is we’re doing, when we could be using that same energy to finding the time and space to breathe, to do less, own less, and yet ultimately, have more.

[Editor’s note: If you want to find more ways to live a happier, healthier, more sustainable lifestyle, MUNI is putting together MUNI Market Day v2.0 on October 25 and November 8, 9AM-5PM to promote conscious consumption and mindful living. Connect with our community so we can help support you on that. You can join the event and invite your friends here.]

Jen HornJEN HORN (@nomadmanager) is a wanderer, writer, and designer out to build the MUNI community, create a culture of caring for self, others, and the planet, and make choosing better a way of life as MUNI’s Chief Collaborator. She is also a lover of handwoven textiles, and aims to keep weaving traditions alive through the use of Philippine textiles in modern fashion with her side project Tala Luna.

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