Quick – what makes you happy?
We typically think of happiness as “in the moment.” We search for simple things that make us happy right now. A hug. A beautiful day. A fat paycheck. A compliment.
I think that’s an incomplete picture of happiness. Don’t get me wrong: simple, in the moment happiness is wonderful, and we could all use a bit more of it. But these aren’t the only things that make us happy.
Sometimes (often?) happiness grows out of unlikely soil.
I’ll give you an example.
When I was in high school, I was part of the academic decathlon team. In order to win competitions, we spent hours studying math, language, history, astronomy, memorizing facts and dates and names and terminology. We met after school, during school, and sometimes on weekends.
At the time, we all thought it was grueling work. Our coaches pushed us; we pushed ourselves. All of us were exhausted. Some of us even got sick from stress.
But looking back, years later, I realize that those times were some of the happiest I’ve had. And I’m not the only one.
If I could go back and relive parts of my high school years, the time I spent with the academic decathlon team, slaving away over study packets would be at the top of my list. Ahead of things like driving to the arcade with close friends during lunch hour; ahead of going to Disneyworld with my school orchestra; ahead of graduation; ahead of any number of good things that made me happy in the moment.
You see, I think sometimes the things that make us happy in the moment don’t last long after the moment’s over (although other times they do).
And sometimes, the times that annoy us, exhaust us, bore us – sometimes those times, we realize, were happier than we admitted to ourselves, because deep inside we could see ourselves growing. And we were proud of that, even if we only notice it years later.
It’s happiness, backwards. But every bit as sweet.
Here’s the takeaway:
Do great work. Push a little bit, even when it hurts, and even when you’re tired. Live in the moment, but don’t forget to step outside of it every now and then.
And have the best time of your life.
Read more from Jeffrey Tang at Art of Great Things