As a result of the concept of relativity impacting how we recognize happiness (it can only feel good compared to something that feels bad) and the concept of equilibrium explaining why happiness is temporary (humans adapt to good and bad circumstances therefore happiness resulting from each “success in life” or pleasure stimulus fades over time) we can conclude that it is not possible to achieve a permanent state of happiness. Rather, we move in and out of states of happiness. When we do something that has a positive impact on ourselves (or other people or the planet) we are rewarded with a dose of happiness. Then, over time, this becomes the new normal. So we need to do more things that will have a positive impact on ourselves, other people or the planet in order to get the next dose of happiness.
Therefore this is a cycle. Cycles do not have destinations. Therefore, the purpose of life is not a destination. The purpose of life is in the journey and the journey is this cycle that oscillates between good and bad experiences. Therefore, pursuing permanent happiness is not physically possible and therefore cannot possibly the purpose of life.
In the graph below the X axis represents time and the Y axis represents happiness. The jagged line represents the Pleasure line. It fluctuates in a band between extreme pleasure (represented by the peaks) and extreme displeasure (represented by the troughs). The area underneath the Pleasure line represents Fulfillment.
In this example happiness is increasing over time. We can see that the high end of the graph on the right shows a dip in this person’s pleasure but this is occurring while there is a large amount of fulfillment. This explains how and why we can be in a bad mood or have a tough day but still feel a lot of “net” happiness as a result of being satisfied with the overall state of our lives and what we have done with ourselves(fulfillment).
The graph below shows an example of somebody that is experiencing peaks and troughs based on pleasure alone while fulfillment remains static over time. Pleasure is something that you can seek and experience quickly but it’s effect is temporary and shallow (in the sense that it is not very meaningful and in the sense that it does not impact “all of your happiness”). The graph is flat because this person is not “building” fulfillment.
Some people will feel a sense of fulfillment when they get a university degree. This is usually because they think that the degrees useful or that it is an achievement to get the degree or perhaps both. This sense of fulfillment will always exist and will only dissipate if this person develops and negative view of their degree (they think the degree is useless or it is not a significant achievement). If this person did feel a sense of fulfillment from their degree and went on to get a PhD and felt that the PhD was useful and that getting a PhD was an achievement then the fulfillment from the PhD will build upon the fulfillment from the degree. This is in contrast to getting pleasure from eating chocolate where the sense of pleasure is fantastic but it disappears after you’ve swallowed it and you’re left with nothing other than a pleasant memory (and possibly a dangerous craving). Fulfillment is something that requires much more work and builds over the course of your life and is long lasting and meaningful. Humans need both pleasure and fulfillment.
The peaks and troughs in the graphs above represent cycles of action resulting positive impact followed by rewards of happiness. After the feeling of happiness has faded and we have adapted to our new normal we feel the urge to get more happiness. This means that we have to take more action that has a positive impact on our lives, humanity or the planet. However, repeating the same success does not generate as much happiness as improving on our previous success (we always want more), therefore, we will want to have an even bigger positive impact when we move on to the next positive impact action.
However, in order to do this we need to undertake some self development in order to become a better version of ourselves and be capable of this bigger impact. This process can be very challenging and uncomfortable (we need to learn new things, do training, practice, etc) and this is why we feel a temporary backward step in our level of happiness during this phase. However, we are incentivized to find the determination to get through it because we expect to be rewarded with another dose of happiness, maybe an even bigger dose of happiness, after we successfully execute the next MPI action. This process of self-development is focused on figuring out how to have the biggest possible impact on yourself or on the planet and then this self development process involves “figuring ourselves out” and figuring out how other people work and figuring out how life works. Therefore, this process of self development is in fact a process of self-discovery. It is self discovery because the self-development process is specifically focused on maximum positive impact on yourself, humanity, the universe/ultimate system.
Let’s put it all together. We all want as much happiness as possible. We have been hardwired to get happiness by doing things that not only have a positive impact on ourselves but also on humanity and the planet. The bigger the impact the more happiness we get in return. Therefore we will execute an MPI action to receive our happiness reward then your happiness will fade and we will crave our next dose of happiness so we will develop a better version of ourselves that will be capable of executing an even bigger MPI action to get the next happiness reward and so on. This is represented in the MPI cycle below.
If the MPI cycle consists of self development followed by action designed to have a bigger positive impact (and repeat) then the cycle becomes an upward spiral of self discovery and happiness – even though it occurs in a “two steps forward , one step backward” sequence (a type of cycle).
The cycle also results in learning what can be done to have the biggest possible impact on your own life and the planet. You learn from your experience then you learn from yourself development activity then repeat. This specific learning process, that results in a positive impact, is self discovery – of yourself, humanity, the planet and the universe. Self discovery occurs through cycles of learning (where we form a view) and action (where we test the view in real life). Therefore happiness is only possible with self discovery and the reverse is also true. They are the front and back of the same thing.
However, if you want your impact to be bigger (and you do, because you will be rewarded with bigger and more frequent doses of happiness) you will need more personal development. The more personal development you achieve the more self-discovery occurs. Therefore, “Maximum self discovery”, “maximum positive impact on the planet” and “maximum positive impact on oneself” are all the same thing. The more you want of one of them, the more you need of the rest.
We have a desire to constantly seek and experience happiness. Satisfying that desire involves self-discovery to identify the things we think will result in happiness (objectives or goals) then additional self-discovery to understand how to get these things (plans to achieve the goals) then we need to take action to get them (achieve the goal). After achieving the goal that we thought would lead to happiness we can complete the cycle of self-discovery by asking ourselves if this achievement did in fact lead to happiness. If we achieved the goal and it lead to happiness we have learned that we are on the right track and we are rewarded with a dose of happiness. If not, we can review and adjust the goal as required based on what we have learned.
Therefore there are two elements of self discovery – learning the theory (from a book, course, friend, mentor, etc) and learning from experience. You need to learn from theory because it is the fastest way to accumulate knowledge. You don’t have time in your life literally learn everything from experience. On the other hand you cannot achieve happiness from learning theory alone because you will not have done anything that has a positive impact on anyone or the planet. Accumulating knowledge and doing nothing is like accumulating money and doing nothing. In both cases these people have created potential for maximum positive impact but they will never receive their happiness reward until they turn the potential into reality by actually doing something positive for the world.
Only a limited amount of personal development can be achieved by accumulating knowledge. Personal development involves accumulating knowledge then making “judgment calls” about how to apply it in life. Then having the courage to put your “judgment call” to the test by taking action to apply the knowledge. Then learn. Then repeat. The entire cycle is required in order for optimal personal development to occur and to accumulate doses of happiness rewards.
The point of this chapter is to put it all together. You’ve probably seen many articles that include a the top 10 (or some other number) things you need to do to make you happy. This is like giving people a portion of the ingredients required for the happiness pie and failing to give them the recipe. You need all of the ingredients and you really need the recipe.
The optimal road to happiness is the one paved with actions that positively impact humanity and the planet. The purpose of this book and the iimagine project is to make the case for this view and to provide the tools required to do it.
Next article in this series: The Life Wall