We see our world through emotion and this is unavoidable. Our emotions tell us when there is something wrong with our lives and helps us to figure out how we want to react to different events in our lives. The common belief is that our primary motivator and decision making process should revolve around obtaining happiness. Our emotions, however, can be our biggest deceivers such as short term highs that result in longer term negative consequences like the emotional catastrophe that the use of highly addictive drugs can bring on.
In Naturalization & Happiness I talked about how after one year a person becoming a paraplegic and a lottery winner were equally happy. The biggest deception that can occur is when life moves someone to a new state in their life (The Flow) and it is so superior to their previous life that they become elated and stagnant. I met a man who was pushed into the flow by his father having a stroke and he was compelled to move. He lost his good paying job at a corrections facility and all his previous friends. He kept repeating to me how it was so strange that life can just suddenly make a complete turn. Though he was making less money he, throughout the conversation, kept insisting he was more happy now. Yet he talked very little about his own life and instead talked about his brother who he helped put through aviation school and was now making almost twice what he was. The entire conversation was marked by him trying to convince me of all the reasons his life was better now but it only convinced me that while it may be better he was still lacking something.
Happiness is a funny thing because it doesn’t really care about long term goals but instead forces us to live contextually. If you are both hungry and thirsty, you may become happier when your thirst is quenched but it won’t last. Happiness is a valuable tool for evaluating our present situation but it shouldn’t necessarily be the tool for planning longer term goals which could provide significantly more moments of happiness then your present trajectory. We tend to let our momentary happiness guide our relationships as well by staying in relationships that ultimately we know, consciously or unconsciously, will not last. Marriages that end in divorce don’t necessarily start sad or in turmoil but it is because society teaches us incorrectly. We are bombarded constantly regarding the context we are in with messages like you only live once or the glorifying of people that have won a lottery in the form money or otherwise in the media.
If possible, we should all avoid living in contexts. This can be very difficult and sometimes feel impossible. Both Bill Gates and Buddah in their stories share the common characteristic that they both chose to not live in a predefined context or conform to what everyone else expected them to do. Not conforming to a context might not be the greatest for your immediate happiness but can ultimately lead to significantly more happiness down the road for both yourself and others.