The Maintenance of Human Happiness

The real power of traveling to far away lands is that doing so teaches you an immense amount about yourself. You go far away from everything you know and end up learning about that which you thought you knew best, yourself.

During my adventures I have met many thousands of people. Despite speaking different languages, generally different genetics, and having completely different upbringings, every person that I have met has fallen into one of two important classifications. They either consider themselves happy or they don’t.

The importance is in their opinion, not mine. It is their happiness, not mine.

It is common knowledge that the aspect that separates the happy from the unhappy isn’t situational or economic. Many famous and rich people consider themselves happy. Likewise, many unknown and poor people consider themselves happy. Paradoxically, the opposite can be true for similar people who are in the same situation. Anyone can be happy or unhappy, external factors are not the sole determining factor.

So what is the real difference between a happy person and an unhappy person?

The difference isn’t defined by the normal measuring sticks of life. Newspaper section titles don’t apply here. Instead, the answer is something that is not typically applied as a measurement at all.

Maintenance

Happiness for any length of time requires maintenance. The birthday candle gets blown out and eventually the child’s smile relinquishes its grasp. The grand slam is hit and eventually the fans drive home. The double chocolate chip cookie is eaten and eventually the taste fades.

The difficult aspect of happiness is not finding it, happiness is everywhere. Instead, the difficulty is in maintaining it.

This is something that I sometimes forget. I work incredibly hard in my life to live in very specific ways (minimalism, paleo, digital nomadism). I pursue these things because they make me happy. Once I am successfully there, the natural conclusion is to think that my work is done and I will now live happily ever after.

But as we all know, that is not how life works.

Happiness requires maintenance. Priorities change, interests fade and relationships ebb and flow. The reason happiness is so hard to sustain is because, like life, happiness is a moving target.

Do yourself a favor and do some intentional happiness maintenance today.

  • Are your primary relationships still bringing you the same happiness that they have in the past?
  • Is your job still bringing happiness into your life?
  • Are your hobbies still bringing you the happiness that made you interested in them in the first place?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, don’t consider it a failure. Instead, perform some routine maintenance.

In my life, I have had jobs that I have worked incredibly hard and passionately at only to realize that my priorities and interests have changed and that I have been going in the wrong direction for months.

The same has happened with interests, hobbies and relationships.

The problem was I blindly ran in the direction that had once made me happy without doing the maintenance required to account for changing targets.

So how do you avoid these common pitfalls? The answer is the same as it is for all incredibly large problems, start small.

Make tiny actions and begin trimming that which is unnecessary. Identify what does make you happy in the given area of your life and begin recalibrating your happiness target. Focus on the positive, not the negative.

We live in a world of constant change and movement. In order to thrive, we must focus our attention on the world around us. Sometimes though, this means we miss changes that occur within ourselves. Don’t let this dictate your classification of your own happiness. Remember, happiness is yours to sustain. You just have to remember to take action and perform the necessary maintenance.

There has been a lot of change in my life lately. I have spent the last several weeks enjoying the heck out of Austin, Texas and am about to start one of the most intense and exciting travel seasons of my life. Stay tuned, I am about to have a lot more stories to share soon!

12 comments… add one

  • David deSouza May 16, 2014

    The question of change is one that I have been considering with regard to my life list.

    I have goals and things I want to do within my life however what if I change, do I still peruse those goals?

    I’d be interested to know if any of your after putting together your list, some of the items no longer had the same meaning or if you thought of new items?

    • Danny Dover May 16, 2014

      Hey David,

      This is a problem that I believe a lot of people think about but not many people bring up. Props to you!

      The vast majority of people who actively pursue a life list do it with room to change and add/remove items. This allows them to change their lists as they go along. Annette (http://bucketlistjourney.net/) is a good example of someone who is excelling at this.

      I went a different route. I knew that if I was to allow myself to change my list at any point that it would entice me to not pursue my hardest goals. It left room for excuse.

      There are a million reasons to not get up a move to a foreign country or to struggle the through the paperwork required to obtain an a patent. By making my list unchangeable, I ensured that I would be pushed way outside of my comfort zone. This has also helped me with prioritizing my time and money. I still do life list related activities that are not on my list but if I am limited on resources I always know which items (my official list items) will get priority. It removes any guilt or guess work.

      This is what works for me and I recommend it to others but with the caveat that it is not right for everyone.

  • Robert Moore May 16, 2014

    Great post Danny,

    Gaining happiness is easy compared to maintaining it!

    Looking for too hearing about your new adventures soon

    Rob

    • Danny Dover May 17, 2014

      Thanks Rob :-) Next big one is experiencing the World Cup. Should be a doozy!

  • Kate L. May 16, 2014

    Hi Danny! Great post – very true, and exactly the sort of thought-provoking reminder we all need from time to time.

    Btw, it’s May, and I don’t see a new mini-list for the month. Is that suspended while your other plans are being worked out?

    • Danny Dover May 17, 2014

      Hey Kate :-)

      Don’t worry! Monthly life lists will be returning this next time around (June 1st)

      How’d your progress go on the last one?

      • Kate L. May 18, 2014

        Hi Danny –

        Fewer in April (4) than in March (6) – but I’m not counting (I had to go back and look). I’m taking them as I think you intended, as a source of motivation for going and doing and trying, without getting hung up on checking off all the items on a list. Besides, I believe that any remaining untried are still just waiting for the right moment!

        I’m looking forward, enviously, to hearing about your World Cup experiences – enjoy!
        Kate

        • Danny Dover May 19, 2014

          Nice Kate! Good work. I hope you enjoyed yourself :-)

          You are right about my intention behind the posts, it is just for fun and motivation, nothing too serious.

          More of those kind of posts to come!

  • Fred J. May 17, 2014

    Nice work Danny, I like the new layout!

  • kayla May 23, 2014

    how do you know what makes you happy? I want to do what i love but i don’t know what that is, and for me, i don’t think the problem is not finding it yet. i do have a few goals, but nothing that helps me pick a direction for my life. i think i am happiest when i am with happy people, but i don’t know how that can help me plan my future.

    • Danny Dover May 25, 2014

      Hey Kayla,

      Identifying what makes you happy can be tricky. I think the best advice is to think about what gave you energy in the past week or month. It is those tasks or activities that likely make you happy. If being around happy people makes you happy than explore that more. What were you doing that made those other people happy? Is there a group or organization that has a lot of the type of people you are referring to? If you can answer any of those questions you will be on your way. :-)

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