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Joy & Contentment
The cliché "What is happiness?" essay
Thanks for going on another Tangent with me. Today, I bring a short reflection on happiness and some recommendations for your weekend. As always, I appreciate you sharing and commenting.
Here we go!
Joy & Contentment
Happiness is a silly word.
Broad enough to mean a lot of things, too broad to define all those things meaningfully.
A contemplation of happiness is a rite of passage. In most cultures, happiness is the ideal state. So much so, that a fear of happiness is deemed a mental disorder called Cherophobia. If you are happy, you will feel better about your life. If not, tough luck.
In my early 20s, I subscribed to this elegant but cynical definition of happiness by Mad Men’s Don Draper.
“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”
As I grew older, I realized that I needed to be more specific, for my own sake, about what happiness was.
It’s not about being pedantic, but bringing clarity to my sensations so that I don’t fall into the facade of pretending that I know what happiness is, out of fear of being ostracized by others who, like me, are also pretending they know exactly what happiness is.
Underneath the shimmering gleam of the word “happiness,” you can find two concrete and practical manifestations of what happiness is:
Joy & contentment.
Joy is a sparky, bright feeling. It’s that sensation where you endorphins tell your brain “this is awesome!” Your body feels lighter, you feel more expansive, your eyes bloom and your smile flourishes. This state comes and goes–it’s effervescent.
Dancing is joy. Watching Colombia score a goal is joy. Hearing my nephew’s laugh is joy. Writing this newsletter knowing that at least one of you will smile reading these words is joy.
Contentment is a sustained state of mind that is the sum of all feelings of satisfaction, a propensity for joy, and greater awareness of the world. Contentment is reached by developing an ability to reframe adversity, and practicing constant gratitude.
Containment is being able to wake up every morning and take stock of all the things that are going well in your life. It is that pause mid-conversation with a friend you cherish and thinking to yourself “wow, I’m glad they are in my life.” It’s seeing a couple holding hands and smiling instead of bemoaning their display of affection. It’s missing a freeway exit and finding the delight in taking the long way instead of cursing under your breath.
It’s about reframing your mistakes as “happy accidents” in the wise words of the magical Bob Ross.
So I don’t pursue “happiness.” Instead, I am in the process of becoming more sensitive to joy, in the hopes that long-term, along with other mindset shifts, I will reach a state of steady contentment that will help me suffer less through life.
Lastly, there a couple ideas that friends of mine have explored around happiness:
In my friend Silvio's essay “On Happiness” he tackles the “what is happiness?” question with the elegance and eloquence you’ve expect from an Italian man living in Milan. This particular passage stood out:
“If being happy were as easy as toggling an option on our control panel, who wouldn’t be? Happiness would be a normal, common, default, unnoticeable state for every member of humanity. As with all things abundant and easy to obtain, its value would be close to zero. And I’m not sure who would want to pursue it, at that point.”
And my friend Haley wrote about satisfaction and how despite having multiple interpretations, people tend to use satisfaction as a cardinal point to navigate life. I really like Haley’s definition of satisfaction and I think it pairs well with my idea of contentment.
“Satisfaction is a deeply personal alignment of one’s heart, purpose, and intent.”
Alas, this mini-reflection obliges me to ask you, dear reader: What is happiness?
Media Worth Recommending
Interoception: The hidden “sixth sense” by Anne-Laure Le Cunff: Anne Laure defines this “sixth sense” as the way “your brain integrates information about the body’s internal state.” It aids the predictive process by which we experience the world. It’s a very interesting read that will leave you thinking about your body differently.
How I Write Podcast with The Cultural Tutor by David Perell: Write of Passage Founder, David Perell launched a new podcast called How I write. The podcast will feature popular Internet writers and dive deeply into their writing process.
As an obvious writing nerd, I’m looking forward to hearing writers speak about their craft along with David’s infectious energy. The first episode is with The Cultural Tutor, a 1.5M follower Twitter account that has experienced a meteoric rise. Check it out!
Last week, I went to a Sofar sounds concert here in Seattle. If you don’t know Sofar is an organization that hosts secret, intimate concerts around the world. You only know where to go 36 hours before the show, and you never know who is playing.
It’s the purest form of experiencing quality live music I’ve experienced.
Here are a couple of artists that stood out:
King Youngblood: Part Lenny Kravitz, part Pearl Jam, this local Seattle band and honors its Seattle grunge roots with thumping guitar riffs mixed with R&B-like vocals. They are just getting started, and I think we will be hearing a lot about them in the future.
Zan Fiskum: This woman is a siren. I was mesmerized by the range and emotion in her voice. It is in the top 10 live vocal performances I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen Celine Dion live, people. Here is a snippet I captured of her performance and video of that same song in the studio.
Until next time!
Thank you to, , and for their generous feedback on this piece!