What is Your Set Point of Happiness?


I need to spend more time in the now.  Like everyone, I spend far too much time grasping, chasing, and hunting for things that just aren’t that important.  I told my wife the other day, that my problem is that I want to “make a million dollars, help a million people, and live a million years.”  When I said this, she thought “live a million years” meant I wanted to leave a legacy with my work.  I thought about it for a while, and indeed that is something that I want; it’s one of those motivators that puts me back on the grasping trail.  However, what I really meant by “live a million years” was that I wanted to literally “live a million years.”  Talk about unrealistic expectations!

If I lived a million years, would dinosaurs reign? (It's only a model)

If I lived a million years, would dinosaurs reign, again? (It’s only a model)

But isn’t that a common problem?  We can try to convince ourselves that we can live with what we have, with the impermanence of our existence, of everything, yet we still chase the lie.  When we chase riches, fame, or reputation we might even succeed by all rational measures, yet we still grasp for more, and that may be after years of chasing.  We might spend 20 or 30 years working our way to the top of the ladder, then we may even be on a fairly high rung, and finally we realize that it’s 20 or 30 years later (where did the time go?), or we may just keep going.  Chasing. Grasping. Wanting.

This is not to say that we should not pursue goals and delay gratification.  Indeed, sometimes we have to put in the time and the effort, sometimes we may have to be away from those we love both physically and/or mentally in order to provide them with their basic needs.  It really is all about balancing our lives.  Some gurus will tell you “live in the now!”  Well, that may be a path for some, maybe for about five people in the world.  A lot of other “gurus” talk about balance, yet most of us are out of balance with our priorities.  You have to be careful about many of these gurus though, a lot of them are just selling the dream that you can have it all, that there are no such things as choices and priorities.

That is the hard part, no?  Life is about priorities and how to balance them:  I can’t just “live in the now” all time, and I definitely don’t want to be wasting my moments grasping for more.  I have to figure out my set point of happiness.  Is it just a basic level of subsistence?  What would that be?  At what level of comfort would I be happy?  I suppose we all have a set point of comfort, or at least we should.  I can imagine that too many of us slog away day to day, ignoring things at are truly important without knowing what our set point is.  What am I working for?  Is it 2 years worth of savings, then that is my set point?  In reality our set point is a list of things:  savings account with 2 years of emergency funds, 3,000 sq ft house, new car, no debt, 2 vacations per year, etc. (these are just examples, not mine).  If you are not at your goal then I guess you keep slogging, putting in those hours as you draw nearer to your final destination (as in death).  Yes, the moments tick by as you keep looking to the future.  If your occupation, your work is something you love than you are fortunate because you are busy doing something that ignites your passion, but you still have to balance your time.

All I need is a place to live.

All I need is a place to live…and satellite TV (check out the background)

If you want to be CEO of a company, even if it is a company you would love to run, then at least be honest with yourself.  To be a CEO will require you to basically work all the time, and invest only occasional tidbits in your family and your quality time.  Essentially, you will be giving to others while those closest to you will be supporting you…or even yearning for more of your time.  You are mortgaging your time for your goal of being a CEO.  I am not saying that you shouldn’t go for it; what I am saying is that you are putting this goal above all else.  So, when I ask you to prioritize your life don’t hand me this list (like so many would without thinking):

  1. God/Spirituality
  2. Family
  3. Health
  4. Work

In truth, your priorities are probably more like this:

  1. Work (so I can be CEO, the boss, the #1 guy, etc.)
  2. Family (where I can fit it in and/or if it is consistent with my first priority)
  3. God/Spirituality (when I get a moment, and to enable my first goal)
  4. Health (so I can be strong to be CEO.  This one could be #2 or even non-existent)

As for me, I continue to lower my set point working to reduce the amount and number of things that I can be happy with.  It’s a constant journey to whittle down the list to things that are REALLY important.

In the meantime, it might be helpful to reflect on one of my favorite gurus’ words:

“Time is very precious; every minute, every hour counts.  We don’t want to throw time away.  We want to make good use of the minutes, and the hours we have left.  When we focus our attention in the here and now and live simply, we have more time to do the things we think are important.  We don’t waste our energy in thinking, in worrying, in running after fame, power, and wealth.”  Thich Nhat Hahn

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