I'm writing this post because I want to have a succinct and shareable piece summarising my non-rigorous views on happiness.

Overview

During the past decade, I entered adulthood. With this transition came more choices, as my parents and teachers no longer constrained me. More choices came with more responsibility and choice paralysis. Should I stay here or move there? Should I focus on acquiring knowledge or furthering my social life? What actions will effectively improve my happiness?

The model I came up with is a four-legged table. Imagine that a flat tabletop represents your happiness. You want to maintain a flat tabletop. If the four legs are out of balance, the tabletop will become tilted, and so will you. The tabletop of happiness stands on these four pillars:

  • Health
  • Knowledge
  • Wealth
  • Relationships

This model is helpful because it's easy to get addicted to some pillars and neglect others. I know many people (including myself, at points in my life) who became obsessed with only one of the four cornerstones and neglected the rest. E.g. we all know the software engineer who is making piles of cash but whose relationships are falling apart, or the socialite who is struggling to pay rent because they're addicted to sacrificing themselves for those around them.

Adages

Let's now look at each of the four cornerstones and identify practical ways to improve them. There are several low hanging fruits under each pillar. However, as you advance beyond the low hanging fruits, the game becomes more challenging as returns diminish.

  • Health
    • There are cheap and straightforward habits that have an outsized benefit in the long run. It's worth adopting such habits as brushing and flossing daily, exercising daily, etc.
    • Conversely, some habits have outsized harm in the long run. For example, drunk driving, phone use while driving, consuming harmful substances, etc. Don't do these things.
    • Health is complex and complicated. You can easily get lost in a rabbit hole researching any health topic and ending up adopting extreme habits. The scientific consensus on various health topics seems good enough for me.
  • Knowledge
    • Recognise that truly learning new knowledge entails deliberate practice. You cannot master the violin by watching YouTube videos.
    • Given the raw materials for a vehicle, most permutations will correspond to a rock, and a tiny subset will correspond to a functioning vehicle. In a similar vein, most information about the world is false. Choose your sources and frameworks wisely.
    • Knowledge about the experiences of other people has contributed significantly to my happiness. Learning fiction, history and biographies has endowed me with a robust and enduring sense of solidarity with my fellow beings.
  • Wealth
    • Acknowledge that seeking financial stability doesn't make you a bad person. Affording shelter, paying the bills and putting food on the table are crucial necessities.
    • Aim for a career with high leverage, such that every unit of time you work creates the equivalent of more than one unit of time of value.
    • Similarly, aim for investments with high leverage. A productive business will probably create more value for you over the long run than an unproductive piece of land.
  • Relationships
    • Your location matters. Living somewhere that makes it easy for you to get to other people and easy for others to get to you will likely improve your social life.
    • Recognise that other people are not idiots. If you're an insincere social climber, you will quickly build a bad reputation for yourself. Learn to be sincere, warm and helpful.
    • Relationships are very delicate and cannot be forced. If you apply too much pressure, you will rupture them. Building a pleasant reputation over the long run with in-person communities will help you meet the right people.

Conclusion

Happiness is a delicate balancing act. Focusing single-mindedly on one dimension of your life to the detriment of others can be self-defeating in Goodharty ways.

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