Meditations on a Personal Happiness Metric
I have a really hard time with the precept:
“Self-reliance is the key to happiness.”
I have always attacked life as if I were a supporting actor in the film that is other people’s lives. I usually devote all of my effort into making my company and coworkers successful and happy, into making my family happy and full of love, into making my friends happy, successful, and understood. Consequently, my metric for happiness directly correlates to others’ success in these areas.
I inadvertently force myself into feeling terrible due to others’ inactions or my inability to convince someone with my knowledge or facts.
Humans are chaotic systems, and I have absolutely no control over another human’s actions even if they were predictable. Why would I depend on such a thing? I panicked! “I don’t want focus on myself! How unfulfilling! All I know how to be is extrinsically helpful! Does this mean I need to forsake my identity in order to be happy?”
Coming down from the amygdala hijack, I mapped my situation to that of a software project. A team of one, me, is working towards a single, unified vision: invest in the people around me. The team knows it is iterating towards the vision successfully. The consumers of the project are happy and benefiting from the work the team is doing. Yet, my team feels terrible every time progress metrics are calculated. If I were consulting this team, I would say, “Choose another metric! Yours obviously doesn’t correlate to the actual health of the project!”
So… instead of forsaking my identity, I can simply “choose another metric!” What will my new happiness metric be? Maybe it is a binomial trial. Maybe it is the answer to the question,
“Am I proud of how much (information/guidance/effort) I provided?”
I like this question as a metric. With this as my happiness-function, the only variable is my own effort towards a situation. If the answer to the question is yes, I know that I did everything I could with everything I have for a particular situation; I pass. If the answer to the question is “no”, I know I have some work to do; I fail.
Maybe happiness is a higher-level question that I stole from a good friend of mine:
“Am I living a life I can be proud of?”
This happens to be quite close to a litmus test my teammates and I use for our software projects: “Are the clients happy?” If I am generally living a life I can be proud of, the details probably do not matter. It does not matter that my manager does not listen to the advice he requested. It does not matter that my sister will not accept my help with her homework. It does not matter that my company makes obvious-to-me, ineffective choices. What does matter is that I explained my point of view. I offered up my help. I explained the consequences of each choice.
In that effort, I am contented.