The Happiness Framework
Imagine standing near the edge of a cliff overlooking two landscapes. On one side, the sun radiates golden rays across a verdant valley. Clusters of lush gardens and massive trees are visible for miles. Elegant pathways interweave the greenery, leading to features such as a tennis court, gazebo, and cabin, to name a few. You can just make out a shimmering blue lake, complete with a dock, off in the distance.
In the center of this landscape lies what can only be described as a modern castle. Massive pillars laced with gold decorate an imposing structure. Intricate, colorful designs snake their way up the walls. Near the entrance is a perfectly manicured lawn, a massive fountain trickling in the center. Everything has been meticulously kept. The view is breathtaking.
You can barely look away, especially compared to the other side of the valley. It roughly mirrors the first landscape, but in an unsettling and uncanny way. It is a wasteland: chaotic, random, and overrun with weeds. Muddy paths haphazardly zigzag in incomprehensible patterns, seemingly leading nowhere. The corresponding lake is more of a murky, brown swamp.
The building in the center of this landscape is so small it’s hardly visible. From what you can make out, it is a dingy, unstable shack made of cardboard and planks. It appears as though it might collapse at any moment. Glass is scattered everywhere, presumably from what were once windows. Huge chunks of the walls are torn down, exposing the interior to the elements. It’s also confusingly placed. No pathways lead there. You could walk right by and never notice.
Which landscape would you rather live in? It’s barely worth asking. The answer is clear. Yet, many of us allow our minds to exist much like the second, disheveled landscape. Without knowing how to shape our mental landscapes, many fall into disrepair. This metaphor may not be clear yet, but in the following chapters, we will explore how the mind is like a landscape, why that’s useful knowledge, and how you can optimize happiness by maintaining your mind like a piece of property.
CORE HAPPINESS QUESTIONS
In my journey to understand the mind, countless questions have arisen. Digging into topic-specific resources answered many of them. Unfortunately, happiness wasn’t one of those topics. I found some useful bits and pieces, but no single resource comprehensively explained how I should live to be happiest. I particularly struggled with the following three questions:
WHAT IS HAPPINESS AND WHY IS IT SO ELUSIVE?
Most resources don’t even bother trying to define happiness. Others felt vague. Is it pleasure? Satisfaction? Contentment? Being in the moment? What do those mean? When can someone say they are experiencing happiness? When two people say, “I’m happy,” do they mean the same thing?
WHY IS THERE SO MUCH CONFLICTING INFORMATION ON HAPPINESS?
There are volumes of conflicting advice. Some claim religion is the only route to happiness, while others claim happiness comes from not being religious. Others say religion is irrelevant, and happiness is actually rooted in relationships. Are some individuals born happy and others miserable? What are the variables?
Even smaller, specialized tools can be confusing. One expert touts positive thinking as the answer to stress. Another says positive thinking doesn’t help at all. One guru says hypnosis is key for health, another one says it’s time in nature. The results are inconsistent as well. One method works marvelously for half the population and fails for the rest. Are they implementing the tools incorrectly? Are people lying about the results? Why are happiness tools so inconsistent? What actually works?
WHAT ACTIONS OPTIMIZE HAPPINESS?
Learning how the mind works can be helpful, but how can we actually produce happiness? Ideas aren’t useful without knowing how to implement them. Phrases like “choose to be happy,” “let happiness find you,” and “be happy in the present” may appear meaningful but are hollow upon further inspection. How do we live these platitudes? If happiness was one simple choice, we would have all made it by now.
Yet, I’ve seen these phrases repeated and spouted as pillars of sound advice. For those struggling with happiness, it is not only unhelpful but also detrimental. Happiness should come easily. What’s wrong with me? It’s my fault for not letting happiness find me. Are most individuals broken, or is the advice too naive? How, exactly, can we consistently increase happiness? What’s an approachable but actionable framework?
These three questions and their corollaries have racked my brain for years. After countless hours of research, contemplation, and trials, I’ve finally refined satisfactory answers. In this book, I’ll guide you through my exploration of these questions. It takes time to fully unpack the details, but by the end, you should have a comprehensive answer to the question: What is happiness, and how do I optimize it?