There’s an old story about a farmer who goes to seek advice from a philosopher.
“We’re so poor, our house is tiny, and my family is constantly at each other’s throats,” laments the farmer. The philosopher ponders on this problem for a few minutes. “Bring one of your goats inside your home,” he says. “Come back and see me in a week.”
The farmer and his family spend the next week living with their stinky goat. A week later the farmer comes back even more distraught. He says, “It’s awful. Our house has gotten more cramped, my daughters are fighting with each other, and I tripped over the goat and hit my head!”
“Good,” says the philosopher, “This week bring in two more goats and a cow.” And so the farmer does so. This cycle of complaints goes on for several weeks until all of the farmer’s livestock are in the house.
Finally the philosopher smiles and says, “Now, put all of your animals back outside.” The next day the farmer comes running back. “Ah, I see now! Our house is huge, we don’t know what do with all the space. My family stopped fighting and we’re glad to get those darn animals out. Oh, and I haven’t felt this happy in years!”
The story shows us two truths about human happiness.
First, we see that positive change produces joy, regardless of the absolute levels.The farmer had the same family, was just as poor, and had the same house as when he started — but was a lot happier. It’s about happiness relative to your previous situation. Second, we can be proactive and structure our lives to be happier, without any gains of material possessions.
If you have everything you need (if you’re making over $32K/year then you’re in the top 1% of the world) but are still feeling unhappy, perhaps it’s time to press the reset button somewhere in your life.
You can achieve this by exceeding your own expectations, creating some surprise in your life, and finding activities where you feel progress.
For example, if you’re tired of the same old vacations, then book a 1-star hotel during your holiday for the first half, and then a 4 star hotel the second half — this will make the vacation significantly more fun (and interesting).
In your daily life, join a new sport and activity on a seasonal basis where you can experience a sense of growth before you hit the proverbial plateau — and when the season changes, change to a new activity, this way you’re creating a constant sense of progress.
Simply taking time off from your routines (even if you think they’re necessary) will refresh you and leave you wanting more. Put your phone away for two days, don’t drink for a month, skip dinner one night, don’t shower with hot water for a week. These may seem trite (or for some, torturous), but even a slight change in your relative situation can give you a boost in happiness!
We forge the chains we wear in life.
— Charles Dickens