Happiness and Satisfaction

I’m almost halfway through my summer “vacation” from classes and it’s time to pause and reflect on what I’m doing with my time off. One of the joys of having free time again is being able to waste it, but I’m finding that spending time in certain ways doesn’t make me particularly happy.

For instance, it’s very pleasant to spend the evening laughing with friends over drinks. But it’s a fleeting, transitory experience. There’s nothing I can hold on to the next day besides the bonhomie of being among friends.

I’ve also spent too much time recently playing a silly Flash game called Desktop Tower Defense. It’s fun and involving while I’m playing it, but there’s no real sense of accomplishment afterwards.

In contrast, I recently played in a ultimate frisbee tournament on the beach at Coney Island. It was fun, running and diving in the sand. Because it was a hat tournament where teams are chosen randomly, I was playing with people I didn’t know. By the end of the day, I felt like I had proved that I belonged on the same field with these club team players. Even though it was a transitory experience, it felt more satisfying because it was a tribute to my continuing improvement at frisbee.

Blogging is also curiously satisfying. When I write a good post, it leaves me feeling happy for days. I feel like I’ve expressed something of value and articulated something meaningful, and that feels like a lasting achievement. It also plays to my desire to show improvement, as the blog format provides a history so I can compare my writing to previous efforts.

I don’t want to make myself out as a monk who refuses to appreciate the baser desires of life. I enjoy the pleasures of a good meal and drinking with friends. But I get greater satisfaction out of working hard towards an achievement. Anybody can go out drinking. Not everybody can play frisbee or write about the things I write about. I apparently have a desire for uniqueness and achievement that outweighs the good feelings generated by serotonin receptors.

One activity that confounds these boundaries is conversation. I love good conversations. If I can have an exchange with somebody at a party or bar that sparks my interest and gets me thinking, it makes the whole evening worthwhile, despite a conversation’s transitory nature. Perhaps it’s that a good conversation synthesizes new ideas out of the experiences of the participants, so it’s a shared achievement.

In some ways, this post is a re-statement of my post about discipline. I am starting to find it more satisfying in the long term to set goals and to achieve them than to do what feels good in the short term. I’m still working on living this way consistently, with too many lapses into playing computer games or re-reading fantasy novels. But posting about it should remind me that I want to do more, and time is ticking away.

P.S. I am going to try to make Noah Brier’s happy hour on Friday. Noah’s one of the organizers of likemind, and it looks like another attendee will be Grant McCracken, whose blog I really enjoy. Join me if you’re interested.

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