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The truth about happiness – Tim Morgan – Medium

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This week, I met my old friend Andy Bell at a rooftop bar and restaurant with dramatic views over London.

Toward the end of our conversation, Andy referenced this George Orwell piece in which he talks about how rare it is for writers to write a good description of happiness. We talked especially about how Orwell cites Dickens as one of the few writers to depict happiness and how he uniquely understands that “happiness derives mainly from contrast”. The Cratchit family are happy because Christmas comes once a year and tomorrow they know they’ll be back to being without.

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

This chimes with my own observations of today. For example first class air travel only makes people happy because of contrast. There is nothing about the free massage, the proper knife and fork or the flat bed that outside of an aeroplane/airport is desirable. But knowing that the alternative is a cramped upright chair, no massage and plastic cutlery, first class travel makes you happy. Temporarily. A Christmas feast, first class travel, scoring a goal. Short term happiness.

What makes you happy for longer?

Longer term happiness can be achieved by having your mind focussed on something you care about/enjoy for long periods of time. For example bringing up a child or starting a business. It generally helps if the thing in question is not easy to achieve or has some element of struggle since we don’t generally value what comes easy to us.

Does money make you happy?

Maybe. It depends what you do with it. If you use it to engage in some long term pursuit that you care about then quite possibly. Certainly not having money makes you unhappy. Which brings me on to my theory.

Happiness isn’t a thing, unhappiness is

If happiness is either fleeting (Christmas dinner) or long winded (starting a business that you care about) then it has no sense of permanence. Maybe it’s not even a thing.

Unhappiness however does have a sense of permanence. So perhaps happiness is simply the avoidance of unhappiness. If true, you can measure your happiness by how long it’s been since you were last unhappy. All other measures of happiness that I’ve come across are even less scientific than this (how happy are you on a scale of 1–10?).

I don’t give a Dickens about happiness

If happiness is the avoidance of unhappiness then it’s inherently dull. There is nothing cinematic about it and that explains why it’s so hard to write about in fiction. You can be happy waiting at a bus stop alone and in the rain.

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