Above all other things, I believe we are all searching for happiness. This search is the single most important thing in our lives. It’s what we spend almost all our time pursuing–whether at the job we work to earn money for free time, volunteering, or creating art. Very few of us ever achieve true, lasting happiness–in most cases we grasp the edges but find our joy to be fleeting, our desires capricious. The search for happiness has lead to the rise of every religion, every government, every grassroots movement or revolution. While there may be a select few throughout the ages who have intentionally avoided happiness for one reason or another, most of will spend our entire lives in this pursuit.
So why talk about it?
As we go through our lives we all experience vastly different realities. We experiment with activities, thought processes, and companions. Through chance encounters we learn what helps us attain happiness, at least temporarily. We may also discover things that make us unhappy. As we proceed through life each of us builds our own list of rules, the dos and don’ts of happiness.
But our lives are individually unique. By the time you reach adulthood it is likely that your list is completely singular, built as it is to address your experience of reality. And the older you get the more unique you become until like the cliche, both you and your personal rules for happiness are a snowflake. Unrepeated anywhere else in the world.
For a long time I dreamed of creating a novel, a compilation work which would take perhaps ten individuals and list their top ten rules for happiness, then tell the stories of past experience which cemented these as fundamental tenets to guide their paths through life.
Over the course of a year and a half I drunkenly interviewed people at parties. I was both surprised and fascinated to discover that people’s opinions on what the ‘Number One Rule for Happiness’ should be varied wildly, much more wildly than I would have imagined. “Always be actively creating something new” I was told by an sophomore art student from the local Catholic college. “Never doubt yourself” from a particularly rowdy clown of a young man, who proceeded to spend the majority of that evening stripped down to just a ‘banana hammock’ dancing on tables and telling anyone near him that they needed “more potassium” in them to be healthy and then generously offering them his ‘banana’. And from a particularly philosophical college freshman, “You’re always allowed to contradict yourself.”
I’m sure that if everyone wrote down every rule they subconsciously abided by we would find that most of us share a pretty large list. What really captured my curiosity was the ‘top ten’ nature of the question. Which rule was most important and why? What lead you to discover this rule? What caused you to believe this rule was the most important one? Have you ever broken your rule? What happened as a result? In your list of top ten rules are more of your rules positive (do “this”) or negative (don’t do “that”)?
In the experience of interviewing anyone I could force to put up with this needlessly philosophical line, my own rules began to change. I added a few consciously and realized that some of the things I believed were outdated or based on unreliable information. I realized that although composing this list is something we all do unconsciously, it’s important that from time to time you take a deep look inside yourself and review how you choose to live. We all want to find happiness and we’re all looking for the most efficient way to attain it. Self-reflection of this nature is clearly worth the effort (although for the sake of expediency I suggest you do it sober). And who knows, you just might surprise yourself.
So what about you? What’s your number one rule for happiness? I’d be interested to know–post your answer in the comments section!