When people are asked about their key life goal, most will say “I want to be happy.” Philosophers have been discussing for millennia the ways by which one might achieve such a grand goal. Can we alter the arc of our happiness or is this something that is inscribed in our genes? Roughly 50% of our happiness is genetically determined but the good news is that this still leaves another 50% up for grabs. The quality of decisions that we make and the mindsets that we adopt have a profound effect on the probability of summiting Mount Happiness. This is the story of my latest book “The Saad Truth about Happiness: 8 Secrets for Leading the Good Life” wherein I offer a set of prescriptions for achieving the good life.
I briefly discuss each of the eight secrets in turn:
- Find the right spouse. When it comes to mate choice, we have two opposing maxims at play: Opposites Attract versus Birds of a Feather Flock Together. For a short-term sexual encounter, connecting with someone who is very different from you might indeed be titillating and exciting. But if you are looking for the long-term success of your prospective union, the research is very clear: Choose someone who shares your life goals, beliefs, and values.
- Choose the right profession. If possible, seek a profession that allows you to instantiate your creative impulse. This can hold true across a bewildering number of jobs be it as a chef, architect, artist, author, or podcaster. All other things equal, the act of creating offers us a much greater chance of finding purpose and meaning in our professional lives. Temporal freedom on the job is another crucially important factor in your professional happiness. When you are in control of your daily schedule, it frees you up to pursue your creative impulse.
- Always be mindful of the “Everything in Moderation” adage, as captured by Aristotle’s Golden Mean. Finding the sweet spot between “too much” and “too little” applies across an extraordinary number of settings. Take perfectionism for example. If you are not in the least bit of a perfectionist, the quality of your work will likely suffer. On the other hand, if you are a pathological perfectionist as I am, you end up checking your work obsessively well beyond that which would be optimal. The ideal level of perfectionism lies somewhere between these two extreme endpoints. The pursuit of the good life is largely shaped by finding the sweet spot whether deciding on the intensity of your exercise routine, the amount of wine to consume, or how many products to evaluate prior to making a purchase.
- Adopt the “Life as a Playground” motto. The instinct to play is an indelible part of our human nature. As a child growing up during the Lebanese Civil War, where death loomed around every corner, I still found it necessary to play outside. As an adult, I chose a profession (professor) that allows me to engage in the highest form of intellectual play; the pursuit of science. A playful mindset allows us to be creative, bond with others, and retain the wondrous awe of our youth. If you are endowed with a playful mindset, seek a spouse who shares your love of play. One of the reasons that I have a happy marriage is that my wife and I are in a constant state of play. A marriage is unlikely to last if one spouse is endowed with a perpetually sunny disposition whilst the other is gloomy and sullen.
- Pursue variety as it can indeed be the spice of life. I’m not a stay-in-your-lane professor, as there are too many scientific problems that interest me. Hence, while I may be a specialist in a particular discipline, I am also a generalist who seeks to traverse many intellectual landscapes. Of course, be mindful that in some domains, variety-seeking might get you into trouble, say in the context of your monogamous marriage! That said, to sample from the rich buffet of life’s offerings is a pathway to existential happiness.
- Be persistent when pursuing meaningful and challenging life goals. I recently lost 86 pounds and have managed to keep it off. It required an insurmountable amount of dogged discipline and persistence to be able to achieve such a gargantuan weight loss. Any meaningful objective whether starting a new business, writing a book, or completing a marathon will require grit.
- The road to success is paved with many pitfalls, thus one must be anti-fragile when dealing with failure. Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi, and J.K. Rowling all faced rejection and yet they went on to become all-time greats in their respective professions. Some of the best-tasting wines are those cultivated in harsh environments. Trees capable of withstanding strong winds become firmly rooted. University students who are exposed to opposing viewpoints (ideological stressors) become better thinkers. An anti-fragile mindset is a key ingredient to achieving success in life.
- Live an authentic life as this will hopefully minimize the chances of experiencing future regret. Regrets can stem from actions (e.g., “I regret cheating on my wife”) or inactions (e.g., “I regret that I never became an artist”). Psychologists have found that inactions loom larger in our calculus of regret. By living an authentic life, we are less likely to experience late-life regret in having compromised our true selves. Existential authenticity can inoculate us against the looming dangers of regret-inducing what-ifs.
Life passes by quickly. Every fleeting moment is infinitely precious. Don’t get mired in unnecessary gloom. Don’t worry, be happy!
Dr. Gad Saad, the host of the popular YouTube show The Saad Truth and a blogger for Psychology Today, is a professor of marketing at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University. He is the author of The Saad Truth about Happiness: 8 Secrets for Leading the Good Life, Regnery Publishing (July 25, 2023). He lives with his family in Montreal, Canada.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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