People don’t like to think of working hard and slogging away at something important as being in any way similar to happiness and contentment, but that’s very wrong! Proactivity and self-sacrifice are the ultimate sources of happiness. Here’s why.

What is Happiness?

You hear a million definitions of happiness every single day. Every advert thrown at you from the TV, radio or internet claims their product or lifestyle change will bring enduring and meaningful happiness.

It’s constantly implied that working and hard and constantly striving for that next promotion, or that new car is the way to real contentment. In reality, it’s a little more complex.

The problem is that the traditional path of working hard, accruing wealth, meeting a partner and having kids can become so formulaic and over-prescribed that instead of fostering happiness, it just builds expectation, disillusionment and self-neglect. Why am I not really happy? Have I not ticked all the boxes?

We’ve never been more disconnected from ourselves, with every single moment of every day occupied with either work, pleasure or shallow distractions. Humans need their lives to focus on meaning and purpose, and in order to be happy, we need goals beyond the end of the week, and beyond going out at the weekend.

We’re disconnected from finding any kind of real purpose, while we plug away at goals and meanings that we’re told by society are important to us. That can lead to boredom, and, contrary to common sense, its boredom, not depression, that’s the real opposite of happiness.

Apathy and Boredom is the Real Opposite of Happiness

Boredom is a funny thing. Because while ongoing, long-term boredom is incredibly toxic and disillusioning, so is constant shallow distraction. Both take you away from goals and purposes you could be striving for, and that’s the real problem.

Nowadays, we all individually carry a computer more powerful than the machines used to put a man on the moon in 1969, and how do we use these tools of endless potential? These bicycles of the mind, as Steve Jobs put it?

We use them for Snapchatting pictures of funny little things we see, or playing endless, uninspired games. We scroll endlessly, making ourselves green with envy at the panoply of amazing times people we know are having, despite knowing all social media is a showreel of the very best bits.

In short, we use them to fill our limited time with meaningless, shallow and negative experiences, mostly in the name of instant gratification and avoiding short-term boredom.

There’s no problem with a little short-term boredom. Share on X

In fact, Cal Newport talks about the sheer importance of accepting a little boredom into your life in his book, Deep Work. The focus of the book is all about how some high-flyers can achieve amazing feats of productivity, while so many of us plod along slowly under the banner of ADHD and other excuses.

While that book is all about achieving the kind of work ethic that allows you to do amazing things, and I definitely recommend giving it a read if you want to boost your output significantly, it also makes another point clear.

Without short-term boredom, you can’t expect to regularly and effectively perform any kind of deep, intensely focused work. Without that kind of occasional work or focus, you’re going to struggle to find a path or career that truly means something to you.

In essence, happiness is something that happens when you feel satisfied, in control and on the right path. No-one is happy when they feel like they’re wasting their life, and failing to even touch on their true potential. Feeling out of control, likewise, is an antithesis to happiness, and so is simply feeling like you’re not moving in the direction you want to be going. That’s why proactivity and sacrifice lead to happiness.

Productivity and Giving your Time Up For Something is Important

Okay, I know I said that striving for that next promotion is a futile, pointless strain running in polar opposite to the direction of real happiness, but achievement, both in the eyes of people around you and in your eyes is a big thing. Feeling like your making ground on a goal that matters to you, and getting some kind of satisfactory reward to confirm and reinforce that is valuable.

But, you might say, I hate my job! It’s slowly killing my soul, and I can’t throw myself into it like you say! I need to find work or a goal that I’m passionate about!
There’s a problem. Passion, like inspiration, is something people sit around and wait for. They expect it to come out of nowhere and zap them on the top of the head, and from that moment forwards they’ll be a big achiever, doing massive things and striving for epic goals.

It doesn’t work like that. According to Aristotle, excellence isn’t a one-off, it’s a habit, and if you’re habitually sat around waiting for your passion or inspiration to take you, when it finally does, why would you be ready to chase it? How would you be?

People that habitually strive towards big goals and ideas don’t let themselves sit purposeless for any span of time, because the instant you start waiting for life to carry you, is the instant you start missing all the important bits, and getting back on that train is always going to be a struggle.

That is why passion and inspiration are ultimately unimportant. You have to take the hand your dealt and reshape it to suit you. Plug in your hours of work, your careful thought and some mild obsession, and then inspiration and passion come.

continue to part 2