Targets and happiness

I’m often aware that life is steadily and inexorably passing by, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Like it’s water leaking from a dam and I’m a Dutch boy whose finger isn’t big enough to stem the flow. The incessant trickle of time can’t be stopped.

And the only reason I worry about it is because I want my life to have been a full and exciting one, and I’m frustrated when things I’m involved with seem to be taking too long. I’m very lucky to have led the life I have. I can safely say it’s not been boring so far.

As humans we’re target driven. We’re constantly looking for the next best thing. Always comparing our circumstances to those of the people around us. But this will never bring lasting happiness because there will always be somewhere nicer to live, a bigger car to own, a better job to have. The grass will always, always be greener.

Daniel Gilbert gave this fantastic TED talk about why we’re wrong about we think makes us happy. As a stark example, he compares the self-reported happiness levels of lottery winners and spinal injury victims 6 months after the lucky/unlucky event. They’re both about the same. In other words, our circumstances contribute to our happiness levels much less than we would expect.

To highlight this fact, the site allows you to input your salary then tells you where you stand compared to the rest of the world in terms of wealth. If you earn just £24,000 you are in the richest 2% of people on the planet. Do you feel in the top 2%of happiest people in the world? With all the money and stuff we have aimed for, then acquired and consumed, are we truly happier?

The more statistically minded among you may enjoy this link: The economic view of happiness – Wikipedia

The reason for this slightly introspective post is that I’m writing this on the day of a funeral of a friend, Chris, who died in a cycling accident last week. It also marks what would have been the 36th birthday of my best friend, who’s sadly no longer with us. Alongside this, I’m starting to notice more and more of my friends are questioning their lives. Is this it, they ask? They see themselves spending the next 30 years sitting behind a desk, to come home every night to TV and a bottle of wine, before retiring and just waiting to die.

Life is short, and we can spend much of it chasing after things that will only make us happy for a short while before we start chasing the next thing. I think the trick is to discover what really makes us happy, and not confuse it with what gives us (inevitably temporary) pleasure.

Or, as John Lennon once said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

As a so-called entrepreneur I’m inevitably target driven, but I’m constantly reminding myself that reaching these targets isn’t necessarily what will make me happy. That next bit of business progress might give me short-lived pleasure, but true lasting happiness will come elsewhere. Friends, family, relationships, charity, security etc?


7 responses to “Targets and happiness”

  1. Welcome to the wonderful world of the mid life crisis! A few years ago, whilst on my second or third MLC, I started reading Thich Nhat Hanh- can highly recommend The Miracle of Mindfulness. Great book, amazing man.

    I’m certainly much more aware now that leading a busy work life, feeling i need to achieve more all the time, and striving for material gain isn’t getting me any closer to being happy.

    • Hey Fiona,

      I’ll definitely check that out. I’ve learned about mindfulness from various teachers in the past, but am rubbish at putting it into practice on a day to day basis!

      And for what it’s worth, I don’t think I’m having a mid-life crisis. Or, not in the traditional sense, at least. My life’s been exciting and full, and I haven’t spent it stuck behind a desk doing a job I loathe. I spent most of my twenties flying around the world performing for hundreds of thousands of people, so I think if I were to die tomorrow I could say I’ve had more fun and fulfillment than most. Hopefully!

      I suppose it’s just an awareness (that I’ve had since my teens) of the inexorable creep of time. It’s just that at my age I’m surrounded by lots of friends that *are* starting to suffer mid-life crises, and I’m starting to see that everything most of us spend our time striving for isn’t what actually makes us happy most of the time.


      • I’m unconvinced Neil. Sounds like an MLC in denial. Not sure that MLCs are only prompted by loathing one’s job either. I’ve loved all my jobs, travelled widely, get paid to go to festivals, see shows and meet interesting people: yet I seem to have Crises at periodic intervals. Maybe my crises are just that like you I have become more aware of the creep of time: MLC #1 involved a relationship with someone more than a decade younger than me (talk about trying to relive my youth…!) , MLC #2 involved buying a horse (ditto!) . Hey, at least it’s been fun…

    • A horse? Isn’t a sports car the norm??


      Yes, it may be an MLC. But if so, it’s one I’ve been having for almost two decades. I blame the philosophy degree.

      If I concede to it being a mid life crisis, will you buy me the obligatory red convertible, find me an (in)appropriately young paramour, and help me grow my hair long again?

  2. Hi Neil, great post, much to ponder – and thanks for sharing your thoughts at this time.
    As a so-called entrepreneur also, my targets are to achieve balance and self-expression within my business, to keep in sight what’s important to me, and most of all, why I’m doing it (the work, I mean). That’s happiness in business – for me.

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