by Jon Sullivan - 2022-02-05 - Stories

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What is the minimum viable solution for happiness?

I remember many years ago..... Let's repackage that... I remember many decades ago.... when I tried to formally define for myself what I needed to be happy. If happiness was a goal, what core things did I need to have it? If the question was, "without these things, I can't be happy", what were the actual things. It's an odd thing to need to formalize. How hard is it to have enough happy in your life to get by? But back in those days happiness was fleeting. It would visit. But it would never stay. My life, by so many measures, was in complete ruins.

I had nothing you'd call a career. No money. Relationships were short and painful. Not getting fat was starting to become a hard struggle. My hopes and dreams were obviously and increasingly out of reach. In my own Jon way I was far too egotistical to be depressed. But I sure wasn't happy. And I was running out of ideas for not being unhappy.

One thing I did have faith in was my ability to figure out hard problems and find real solutions. I was smart. And I decided to apply those attributes to the happiness problem. Was there an algorithm to guarantee happiness? Were there a few things I truly needed to be happy? But more purposeful : Were there things that would ensure I was absolutely happy? Could I list 3 things that would guarantee I was living a happy life? Or 3 things I couldn't be happy without?

So I spent weeks making lists of things that made me happy. I didn't worry about what the final result might be. I wanted a long list. Anything and everything. Even stuff that might be hard or impossible. I didn't differentiate between things that might bring long term vs short term happiness. I didn't leave it off if it seemed silly. I included things I knew little about, but still thought might bring happiness. Hundreds of things. Then I sat on it for a few weeks, thought on it, added more. Spent a lot of time thinking about how I even defined happiness. Tried to think it through. Was such a list even a worthy goal? Is happiness really that important?

Then I got to work stripping it down. I got rid of things that were just impossible. Being tall would make me happy, but it's impossible, so cross it off. Then I crossed off things that I had no control over. Winning the lottery would make me happy, but hanging my happiness on that would be bad. Cross it out. Then I looked at things that were vague notions rather than attainable, discrete things. A "great career" isn't a thing, it's an attribute. So I would either restate it as a thing, or crossed it off. Sometimes I'd have to split things into parts. Sometimes I'd have to combine similar things into one.

Eventually I had a smaller list with lots of happy things on it. But it wasn't THE list. It was still too many. So I started asking two questions for each - 1) Could I be happy without it, and 2) if I had it would that alone make me happy? That pretty quickly got me to a short list of 10. Then a list of the top 3. I don't remember the top 10 at all. But I do remember the top two - Video games, and a good job in IT.

I knew the answer, I made it happen. 30 years later, it's still true. Any day I can play video games is guaranteed to be a happy day. And my IT job is one of the best things I have. Sure, some things make me unhappy. But happy is always right there with me, both at work and at play.

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