Raj Raghunathan (@Rajadon), author of If You’re so Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?, examines why happiness often eludes us in all walks of life — no matter how healthy, wealthy, or wise we seem to others.
The Cheat Sheet:
- The very things that make people smart and successful can, paradoxically, get in the way of happiness.
- The typical education, no matter how extensive (or expensive), doesn’t give us instructions for how to be happy.
- Are millennials naturally better equipped for happiness than elder generations?
- Being mindful intensifies positive feelings even as it mitigates negative ones.
- What’s the recipe for your happiness?
- And so much more…
The combination of a fancy education, great job, and seemingly superior IQ isn’t a magic formula for happiness. As it turns out, like anything else worth having, the kind of satisfaction enjoyed by the truly happy is something toward which we need to work.
In episode 518 of The Art of Charm, we talk to Dr. Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re so Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? about why happiness isn’t necessarily the default for people who seem to “have it all,” and what we can do to ensure our own happiness no matter where we are in life.
More About This Show
What are the determinants of a happy and fulfilling life? Some might assume being smart and successful automatically provide happiness and fulfillment as fringe benefits. But as Dr. Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re so Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? will tell us, this hasn’t proven to be the case.
“If you were to step back and look at why this paradox of sorts exists, I think there are two main reasons for it,” says Raj. “One is that the very things that make people smart and successful — [such as] the drive to be better than anyone else at something — actually can come in the way of happiness.”
“And the second big reason is that the smart and successful people are no different from the rest of us. None of us is educated in any way to think about the question of ‘What are the determinants of a happy and fulfilling life?’ If you think about a university education, I can bet my bottom dollar that there was no course on happiness…I don’t even think the idea of ‘What does it take to lead a happy and fulfilling life?’ was even tangentially mentioned in any of the courses.’
This is especially surprising when you consider it’s a question that everyone asks at some point in their life. And the fact that no one’s really addressed it seriously until now makes it a surprising oversight — but it does help explain how people who are smart and successful are often just as lost as the rest of us in finding happiness.
Raj hopes that, by writing his book, starting the Happy Smarts Project, and teaching the free A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment online course at Coursera, we can begin to take the business of happiness more seriously.
The Determinants of a Happy and Fulfilling Life
Let’s begin by trying to answer that first question: What are the determinants of a happy and fulfilling life? According to Raj, we need three main things to be happy:
We need to feel that we are good at something.
We need to feel a sense of intimacy or connection with at least one other person.
We need to feel a sense of freedom — that we, rather than others, are the authors of our own judgments and decisions.
While mastery, belonging, and autonomy are necessary ingredients for happiness, they don’t complete the equation. We also need to consider the means that get us to these ends — that is, what approach do we use toward fulfilling these needs?
One of the most common hitches on the road to happiness is our desire to be superior to other people. From an evolutionary standpoint, this desire served us well over the course of human development because it helped us survive and edge out those who didn’t have this desire. In modern society, however, it leads to social comparisons that spark feelings of inferiority if we don’t feel like we’re outpacing — or at least matching — the success of our peers.
While we’re hard-wired by the instincts that got us by in the past, happiness seems to be more conducive to our survival in this day and age.
“It’s much better to get caught up in the flow of the activity rather than having part of your brain being devoted to monitoring how you’re doing compared to other people,” says Raj.
The Fundamental Happiness Paradox
While most of us confess that happiness is near the top of our most important goals, we often forget this and allow ourselves to get distracted by other goals — even goals that would be significantly lower in the hierarchy. We need to be consciously careful of how we habitually let these lesser goals elbow out actions that would easily grant us happiness. Reminding ourselves to weigh the greater reward of happiness with whatever the alternative might yield is one way to ensure we’re making better choices.
Raj gives the example of a parent who might be inclined to come home from a long day at work and veg out in front of the television set. Instead, choosing to spend time with the family turns out to be a better use of an evening because it pays the parent — and the family — back with happiness instead of wasting it uneventfully on a short-term, but comparatively unsatisfying few hours of leisure.
Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm to understand more about why millennials may be better suited to embrace the importance of happiness and fulfillment than their forebearers, why the fundamental happiness paradox is so insidious, how we tend to devalue happiness and what we can do to maximize it instead, what the fluency effect teaches us about how we prioritize our goals, the trouble with medium maximization, and lots more.
Don’t forget to take the Happy Smarts survey here (which includes the genie question Raj mentions in the show) — it only takes 10 minutes to complete and you can decide to keep the results to yourself and anonymous or share them with your Facebook friends. It may reveal some pretty interesting insights about your own attitudes toward happiness that you’d never before considered.
THANKS, RAJ RAGHUNATHAN!
Resources from this episode:
- If You’re so Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? by Raj Raghunathan
- The Happy Smarts Project
- A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment at Coursera
- Raj Raghunathan at Twitter
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