Back from a looong 60-day vacation with the family... No commitments, no rush, just fun times. Probably some of the most enjoyable 60 days of my life. Happy? for sure. Could I do it forever? Not sure. It made me reflect on the balance of great times and tough times needed for long-term happiness. I can assure you that the first Monday afternoon by the pool with the kids drinking a beer feels much more pleasurable than the 52nd weekday doing it.
Happiness is not about being comfortable all the time; it is not the absence of pain. As Dean Carnazes, the ultra-marathon man who ran 52 marathons in 52 states in 52 days, said, "Somewhere along the way, people started confusing Happiness with comfort".
Happiness is knowing how to embrace, accept and learn to deal with all life's content: the good and the bad. Of course, a life filled only with negative emotions and pain will not be a happy life. On the flip side, a life without pain and negative emotions not only doesn't exist but would unlikely be a happy life even if it did exist. One could argue that happiness requires discomfort and pain. Let me explain.
Humans adapt. Humans have an outstanding ability to adapt to pain but also pleasure. This is called hedonic adaptation. Humans developed this survival mechanism that makes it go back to its "hedonic equilibrium state" or its "happiness set point." Imagine that our ancestors, after a good hunt, would be happy and not anxious, celebrating for days the event. They would feel great and likely not feel the urge and need to go hunting again. Humans survived because they were designed to be." anxious and worry about the future very quickly. To fight for the next step on their survival journey. So after a brief period of pleasure, we return to our steady state and feel the urge to fight for survival again. As mentioned before, lottery ticket winners usually see a bump in their happiness for only six months, after which they reverse to the level of joy they felt before winning the lottery. Six months. That's it. Listen to a song you love 10,000 times in a row, and you get bored. Eat your favorite food every meal, and you won't appreciate it anymore.
The same happens with negative emotions. Humans adapt and return to their "happiness set point" even after traumatic events. Some of the happiest people I know had incredible hardship in their lives. Sometimes they were brought up in harsh conditions; some faced health problems themselves or in their close family lost loved ones and suffered injustice or discrimination. How many times have we heard about stories of people that "found their true selves" or became an entirely different, better person after a life-changing event? Tough times make you more prepared to deal with negative emotions, give you perspective and make you appreciate life more. Think back on the worst moments of your life.at They felt terrible in the moment, right? Today I am sure they don't feel that terrible anymore, and possibly it even made you a better (and happier?) person.
Tommy Rivs is one of the best endurance ultra runners of all time. One night in 2020, he couldn't breathe. He was rushed to the hospital and discovered he had a rare and aggressive lymphoma. He was given a few days and induced into a comma. Tommy rivs lost 70 pounds. He had many surgeries, his lungs today are a mix of holes and scar tissue, and he has a fraction of the lung capacity they had two years ago. Tommy Rivs is alive and well. He had gained 70 pounds, his tests have been cancer free for 15 months, and he could complete the NY marathon in 2021. Tommy's ability to deal with extenuating circumstances helped him endure his toughest life challenge. Leaving through the disease seems to make Tommy gain so much perspective that he seems happy to be able to say to himself, "Not today. I am alive, I am breathing, and I am here now". In his own words, "Satisfaction and happiness in life don't come from sitting around and doing nothing. It comes from working hard at something and accomplishing it from time to time. That is where happiness is found, in that struggle."
Now think back to some of your most pleasurable and happiest moments. I bet many of them came with sacrifice with struggle. Best meals are when you are the hungriest; drinking a beer is better after a marathon. Graduation is one of the best parties because you have to work hard. Seek pleasure constantly without struggle, and things can go sideways really fast. Make money by betting small on a casino, and you will soon feel the urge to bet bigger to have the same amount of pleasure. Addiction (making money, alcohol, sex, drugs, social media) comes from the need to devote more time and attention to activities to get the same amount of pleasure. It is an effortless pleasure; you do a lot, get used to it, and you want more and more, distracting your time and resources from other fundamental parts of your lives like meaningful relationships and meaningful work. How many people were borne or suddenly were able to "have it all" without much sacrifice and end up depressed and having severe mental health issues?
So, are we doomed to our "hedonic equilibrium state"? Is there a way to be happier? To trick our happiness set point and fight hedonic adaptation? The answer seems to lie in what scholars call "emodiversity"—our ability to have and deal with diverse emotions frequently, both positive and negative. We all should work on our happiness like we do to be fit. When we go to the gym, we seek discomfort, "stress" our muscles, tear them and grow mentally and physically more prepared and stronger. You can't go to the gym 8 hours a day. You can't stress your muscles and your metabolism all the time. Constant stress is bad for your health. What you need to do is to apply controlled stress and recover. Stress and recovery. It is the same with happiness. To be happier, we need to focus on happiness fitness. Happiness fitness is seeking controlled discomfort so you can appreciate your positive emotions and experiences more. I am not arguing that we should all be depressed constantly so we can feel good when we are not depressed. I am arguing that we seek "discomfort" that will benefit your physical and mental health in the long run because it gives you more perspective to appreciate great things in life.
Learning to deal with negative emotions will be essential for your happiness fit. Sometimes life will train you to deal with negative emotions by throwing unexpected things at you. If you are lucky enough and do not have enough "discomfort" training, wake up early, Run a marathon, take cold showers, do dry periods, do voluntary work in challenging places, cross the ocean on a small sailboat (without good food, no drinking and waking up every 2 hours). Work on something that feels hard. TGIF is not a bad thing. It tells you that you worked hard, were uncomfortable, and now you will enjoy it. Do something that will make you better, but if you can do it while helping others, even better. Tough times will come to your life and the life of your family. While it doesn't come, you and your family should be as prepared as you can for it by seeking discomfort on your terms. It will help you prepare for tough times and appreciate the time you have now even more.