There are dozens of books on happiness – How to be happy; How to become happy; Doing “X”, “Y” and “Z” will make you happy; Why you’re not happy and how to fix it. There are entire sections for this in book stores and professional motivators in real life, and the latest popular Youtubers that espouse some “happiness goal”. Many are making a very good living a “happiness”.
So what is fundamentally wrong with this?
It is very simple – Firstly, at the biological level we are not “geared” for happiness. There is no biological circuit for “happiness”. Our bodies do not monitor and reward us for being “happy”. Secondly, and deeper, there is no moral driver that is directly associated with happiness.
Paradoxically if you aim for happiness, you may achieve it briefly, but it does not last. Rather aim for a difficult task, and although you may suffer in and during the fulfilment of the task, surprisingly as you progress towards your task goal you will often find you are happy. Of course there will be setbacks, and periods where you may be in various degrees of unhappiness – but with each tiny step forward you receive chemical kick from your dopaminergic system. This biological positive feedback loop gives significantly improved chance at continuing towards the goal. Having the goal as something that is morally good transforms the goal into something with meaning.
As Doctor Jordan Peterson has said “Life is a battle for survival. You are going to die anyway – so lift a load, the largest load you can handle, do something good and make your life meaningful and glorious”.
Further Dr Peterson suggest that at many points, you should (or will) re-evaluate your goal. Critically you should adjust you goal as needed – still aiming high, taking into account the most current information you have on where you are so far, and where you are headed.
Surprisingly Dr Peterson has succinctly described the high-level process very typical at the core of Machine Learning systems. In simple terms the process is – define the goal, use a small step (learning rate) and try moving in a couple of directions, assess if you are actually getting nearer the goal, and repeat.
Our very latest technology that is at the core of our Artificial Intelligence work turns out to be just like what our evolved biology has proven to work (perfectly – No, but well enough I would say). Our AI systems are looking at lot like us.
The age old proverb “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” has new meaning in this light.
If many steps towards your goal produces a positive outcome, and you keep checking your goal is aimed high at each step, then you are guaranteed a meaningful and rewarding journey. There will be many emotions – sorrow, pain, exhaustion, hunger and joy, triumph and happiness. The secret is to start on the first steps and enjoy and be immersed in the meaningful journey. The goal, after all is not to reach the goal, but to be ever moving towards the goal and the goal to be getting higher and more glorious.
Jesus had a goal to save us – ending his life in tragic suffering lead to the foundations of our western society. This was a truly glorious life. What step are you taking today?