Thoughts on What Makes a Good Life and the Pursuit of Happiness

Generally this is a gaming blog. Occasionally I stretch into political discourse, and I used to discuss faith and religion. However, I’ve tried to keep it largely focused on gaming of late. What follows probably would normally be something I’d just post to Facebook for my friends, perhaps open that post up to the public… but I figured why not push it here for a change of pace… and then share it to Facebook. 🙂

There’s a new TED Talk video called What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness | Robert Waldinger | TED Talks

So let’s talk about a few things. Some are already pointed out in the comments, others are fresh and my own…

He starts off asking, “what keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life?” Where should one put their time and energy and noted a survey asked of millennials what are their important life goals.

80% wanted to get rich. This brings me to my first major stopping point, and I don’t think any of the top comments talk about it. I personally have zero desire to pursue wealth. I personally think the greedy pursuit of wealth to be immoral… and I used to go to a prosperity gospel church. I certainly have zero desire to be poor, and if I had to choose I’d probably go wealth, but there is a middle ground. I for one would refuse anything over the salary equivalent of $150,000 a year, plus or minus the cost of living from this area of Ohio (which admittedly is one of the cheapest areas to live in Ohio… in the US period, $500 a month puts you into a nice 1 bedroom town house in a good neighborhood and a premium school district), and I’d start feeling guilty around $60k-80k a year. There’s just no reason to make more than $150k a year (again, after cost of living adjustments)… Now I’m talking, making that while the people under me aren’t making a living wage. The better the people under me are doing, the more I can see making, but I feel it is highly immoral to rake in huge amounts of income while the employees under you are struggling to make a living. Not too many years ago, people fought to make a 40 hour week, now the employers are taking more and more for themselves and no longer pay a living wage. Those on the political right think that the poor should work 80 hours a week, both parents, if that’s what it takes to avoid having to use government assistance. But once upon a time, when this country was great and producing great things, the man of the house worked 40 hours a week and that took care of it all. Now we’ve turned our backs on the 40 hour a week concept, and now both parents HAVE to work full time jobs to make ends meet, and the right disparage the poor and praise the rich. Our reality TV focus on the rich. We idolize wealth WAY too much in this society.

Next he noted that 50% of them wanted fame. Again, not something I desire, and not something noted in the comments. I prefer to be in the background… FAR into the background. The less people know of me the better. Not really much to get on a soapbox here, but again we idolize fame too much. Humility is a far better goal IMHO. I generally find boasting and the like to be a turn off. Now, I probably see too little value in myself, and I’m not saying people should see themselves as shit, which I basically see myself as, but shouldn’t be boastful either. Again there is a medium ground. A small degree of confidence in who and what you are… notable exceptions being exceptions for child molesters, murderers, rapists, abusive people, those who take advantage of others, etc. those people are shit and should feel like shit. I’m talking normal people, be they gay, straight, religious (in so long as you aren’t pushing it on others), non-religious, super smart or not book smart, strong, weak, whatever. Take no shame in those sort of things, don’t put others down who may be different… which would get into a soapbox that I may address one day… Anyhow, for me I don’t care for fame, though I find it a tad less offensive than the pursuit of wealth.

He then notes about work hard, and harder is something we are told to do. I sort of addressed that with the wealth section. I think a 40-50 hour work week is good. Closer to 40 the better, and no more than 60. However, I don’t think it’s good to push too hard, to make that a big life focus. Work, then leave work at work. Don’t bring it home. Do those 40 hours… and he sort of touches on that throughout the video. I don’t think too many people would disagree with the concept… save perhaps those on the political right who think the poor should be doing 60, 80 hours plus and probably still struggle. You should work hard while at work. I’m not saying that one shouldn’t find hard work, and do their best and work hard at it, but be reasonable. Don’t make it such a central focus. Again, not something really noted in the comments.

With the first minute of the video out of the way, he spends most of the rest of the video talking about relationships and how important healthy relationships are to health and happiness. This is where some of the comments come into play. What if happy people tend to get into healthier relationships? Yes, healthy relationships have a direct correlation with happy and healthy people. But correlation doesn’t equal causation. I’m sure healthy relationships do have some causation, but his premise seems to be it is the primary cause of a happy and healthy life, and I’m not sold on that.

Now I may be looking at this as a shy, introvert, who likely has Asperger’s Syndrome (I know, it’s just Autism Spectrum Disorder now, but…) and some social anxiety issues. He does note at 6:55 that those who are more isolated “than they want to be”, so perhaps, the more introverted among us are exceptions to the rule and I may be over reacting. Hard to tell though from what he presented at this talk, and I haven’t read any of their reports to further dig into how severe introverts figure into these things.

That’s not to say I don’t desire some better relationships.

I wish I was better connected with my kids. I wish we did more quality time stuff while together than we do. I wish I wouldn’t be so lazy about pushing for doing more quality stuff, and would be willing to take a risk with trying things out with them.

I wish I was more able to engage in board gaming with the local board gaming group. Generally I go to a meeting, stand around and if somebody invites me to join them, I do, but most of the time I just never get around to asking to join people and leave depressed I couldn’t play games. I want to play board games and roll playing games far more, and wish I had some people, be it a special person or not, to do so with regularity.

Aside from those two situations though, I generally don’t really desire much closeness with others. I’d nearly be a hermit if I could. Of course that board gaming and roll playing would be a rather social thing, and friendships of that sort may be what he’s talking about to a degree. And I like my Internet friends.

I certainly don’t want any sort of distance between myself and my family… just perhaps not as close as he seems to suggest. Lol. Of course I may be slightly soured for a variety of reasons… and I don’t think a wife would make me happier. Well I’d be happier, but not happy in of itself. That is, I’d be happier than I am now, but I don’t see that as lending myself to being “life is great now” mode with just that one change. Though again, I may be over thinking what he’s stating in the video. Yeah, it would much better than my present situation, but I’m not sure how much better it would be than being alone and in hermit mode… which is where my question comes in. And I’m not sure the honest answer. I think it’d be better than alone, better than hermit mode, but… this is perhaps why therapy may be called for, to help figure such things out. Lol. Odds are I’m overthinking what his point is though.

Generally yes, people are far more important than wealth, fame or over working yourself. I don’t think anyone would disagree, and I certainly don’t… just not sold that relationships alone lead to a happy and healthy life. I think one can make a solid case that people who are generally happy tend to have healthier relationships than people who are depressed, which is more or less my whole point. I’m sure lots of depressed people have perfectly healthy relationships in key areas… and I’m not just talking chemical imbalance here. I’m talking more deep rooted stuff. The hows and why’s is what I’d like to see explored in more detail. More work to find a causal relationship between healthy relationships leading to happy/healthy lives not just a correlative one, and why are some people with healthy relationships are outliers and not happy.