Happiness is not a passive emotion. It doesn’t just come to a person without effort. I had a wrestling coach who drilled in our heads one motto all year long, CANI (Constant And Neverending Improvement). I love this motto but I think it could just as easily be modified to Constant And Neverending Pursuit of Happiness because happiness comes from the improvement of the self.
Growth is the key to happiness. People feel the most enjoyment when they feel like they are progressing. Certain activities provide such growth opportunities. These activities have some key characteristics in common.
First, the activity must be challenging. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. If you thrown in the Super Bowl in the last 10 seconds of the game and thus became part of the championship team that feeling wouldn’t compare to the feeling of the guy who had worked his whole life for that particular moment. It’s the overcoming of obstacles and the struggles that one goes through that makes the great moments taste so sweet. Edmond said, "He who wrestles with us sharpens our nerves and skill. Our antagonist is our helper."
The second criterion for a happiness generating activity is clear goals and immediate feedback. You must know what defines success in that activity and you must have a good way to measure that success. If there is no feedback how would one know
if they are succeeding?
The following are the main areas of happiness that I focus on in my life, ranked in order of importance.
Religion enables me to see my whole life as a happiness generating activity. Without a set outline of what is right and wrong how would anyone know if they are improving as a person? Life without religion is like a playing a game without rules. Such a game cannot generate happiness because there is no feedback. Cicero said, "To be completely free one must become a slave to rules."Religion is a means to measure my growth as a person. The goals are clearly mapped out by Jesus, love God and love others.
To generate happiness, a relationship must have a goal for its existence. These goals must be in line with each person's individual goals and also be mutually beneficial. Constant growth is also a key. I've heard happily married people say, "It only gets better over time." That’s the kind of marriage I want to have. Family has a natural progression of growth; infatuation to love, love to marriage, marriage to kids, etc. Maybe that’s why our family relationships have such a huge impact on our quality of life.
"If you find a job you love you will never work a day in your life." The key to work creating happiness has to do with the design of the job. It must provide challenges comparable to the skill level of the person. A job that is too easy will result in boredom, too hard, anxiety. Also, there must be clear and immediate feedback. Sometimes the feedback comes in the form of monetary success. I once heard a professional poker player say, "I don’t care about the money. It's just a way of keeping score."
3. Mixed Martial Arts
The reason I love fighting so much is because of the amazing challenges that it presents. For every fight I must overcome physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual obstacles. While I hate the process leading up to fight night, the feeling I have once I have overcame all of these obstacles is incomparable and indescribable.
I started teaching myself to play the guitar about a year ago and let me tell you, it is not easy. After a lot of frustration and persistency, I can now play about 2.5 songs. But the feeling I get when I learn a new song and it starts to sound like an actual song is amazing. I can sit and play for hours and lose all track of time. What's even cooler is that I know the better I get the more enjoyable it will become!
**Money (not really an activity but still worth mentioning)
Money cannot buy happiness… unless it is spent on someone else. Challenge? Yes, giving money is challenging. That’s why most people don’t do it, or at least don’t do it very often. Feedback? Try giving money to worthy cause and, if you are like me, you will feel the feedback deep in your belly right away. The immediate feeling of satisfaction you get from knowing that you are improving someone else's life for nothing in return is priceless! The more you give, the greater the challenge, the greater the happiness. Try it out, you wouldn't be disappointed.
Most of these theories were derived from the book FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I highly recomend this book. It changed my life.