Paul Nixon's Blog |||


Yeah, well, having tackled - and settled obviously - matters relating to nutrition, health, productivity and parenting with customary humility I thought I might turn my unfaltering gaze to a subject that has baffled and eluded the greatest thinkers for the last two and a half millennia - happiness.

1. A Fundamental Truth

Here we go then

To a very large extent, happiness is independent of circumstances

We simultaneously know this and we don’t know this. We know from experience - every previous improvement in our life circumstances did not lead to material, long term gains in life satisfaction. Our intuitions, however, tell us very clearly that next time it will be different, honest. Stupid brain - don’t believe it, the next time will be the same.

This is bad because we will be continually deferring happiness into the future under the (false) impression that when we get the next big thing we think we need we can finally be happy for good.

And you want some proof? When’s the last time you saw a happy billionaire?

Laughing Billionaire

2. Startling Consequence of the Fundamental Truth

So far, so good right - but there is a startling conclusion

You have everything you need - right now!

(for the benefit of simplicity I’m assuming basic needs are being met - security, sustenance, shelter, frequent Michelin-starred meals, etc)



You think better looks will make you happy - go ask one of them pouting, grumpy old supermodels. You think being fitter will make you happy - yeah, well, it might a little, for a time. Likewise more wealth - but not a lot, and not for long.

This is frightening and liberating.

Frightening, because, well, is this really all there is? Is this as good as it’s going to get? (Hint : yes, pretty much)

Liberating because we can relax a little and spend a bit more time reflecting on and appreciating what we already have.

3. One Simple Trick…

So our happiness is largely uncorrelated to our circumstances - but it is more sensitive to changes in circumstances.

That £50k new job? Feels great if it’s a promotion and your last job earned you £40k but it feels like shit if it’s a demotion and represents a big paycut.

Now, your psychotherapist is genuinely going to hate me, but there is one simple trick to a happier life.

What if your life was always getting just a tiny bit better? Not by much, but a little bit. Now we’re talking.

Not big life-transforming, lottery-winning, mega-promotion, 6-pack-flashing, Ferrari-driving change. But just steadily chipping away, small, easy, consistent improvements.

4. Goals

Here’s a nice quote from Naval Ravikant

A fit body, calm mind and a house full of love - these are things that can’t be bought but must be earned

What if every day we were quietly and slowly but deliberately making a little progress in each of these areas? Making better choices; working out a little, eating a little better, spending a little less time on the phone, spending a bit more time being genuinely present with our loved ones, watching less shit on the telly, spending a bit of time every day, sleeping better, and pondering on the myriad ways we should be grateful for what we already have.

Again our intuitions fail - we sense the accretion of tiny changes can’t make a difference - but they can and do.

5. Conclusion

We have better material circumstances than a ruling monarch from a couple of centuries ago - our children mostly survive, we rarely die in childbirth - especially men, we have food in abundance, dentistry, antibiotics, anaesthesia, central heating. Jeez, compared to all of history these are the best of times.

But our brains aren’t wired that way; always striving, always wanting more, never satisfied. But it’s a scam our brain is always trying to pull on us and we’d do well to acknowledge it.

Reading List

Here’s some books that are highly decent if you’re interesting in reading on the topic

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

In Search of Meaning by Victor Frankl