As I mentioned in my introductory post, I’ve learned that the psychology of productivity is, in part, just pursuing the work that makes you truly happy.
But what even is true happiness? One possible definition…
I ended up super sick in February, post-defense, and I spent about three days on the couch drinking herbal tea and bingeing The Good Place. I jived with its premise—that we all have it within us to become better people—so, once I was feeling well, I googled around to find articles about the show’s development. I discovered that one of the philosophers Chidi mentions on the show in his ethics classes—Todd May—actually advised the script writers and has a bunch of books out. I was like, hell yeah I’m going to read his stuff, and I picked up A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe.
This book is gooooooooood. He writes like a true teacher: with accessibility, compassion, and barely concealed rage over how much time we waste not being our best selves. He also delves into the concept of happiness.
For May—or really for Aristotle, who May’s channeling—true happiness washes over us when we choose work that compels us and we pursue it.
This pursuit requires a tripartite balance. First, we must become attuned to our work, which means we must learn to create a special environment in which we can give work our full attention. Second, we must be engaged in our work, in the sense that we can become both lost in it, and found in it. Third, we must endorse our work, celebrating both the feeling of engagement, and our (even small) achievements, and learning to believe that we are significant in what we have to offer as active, genuine, valuable members of society.
Balance like this is challenging. It requires that we understand how to enact each component, as well as how to piece them together into a meaningful whole. In addition, we have to learn what compels us and we have to recognize our own value as writers, even—especially—before we’re published. It’s easy to get lost in the process, or hung up on one component, or feel like you’re wasting time or failing.
In fact, I think that’s kind of the point.
Aristotle never meant for happiness to be easily achievable. He wanted it to be a defining attribute of a life well-lived—a state of peace we reach when we no longer have to actively choose to be our best selves and do our best work and believe that it’s all worthwhile because such things have become inherent to us.
My days are still full of choices—writing over Netflix, running over napping, “brain food” over pizza—so I can’t tell you I’ve got it all figured out. I also still struggle to feel valuable in a commodified world.
But things are getting easier. I am much happier now than I was when I started out on my writing journey. I feel more fulfilled, more willing to stand up for the time I need for my projects, and more self-confident. I have developed Opinions about things, and I write every day.
Therefore, I think I can at least help you get started on your own path to happiness by sharing some of my successes and failures, my systems and flops. At the very least, I can tell you how I made the time and finished stuff.
And, I can tell you right now that you are valuable.
I’ll start on the nuts and bolts in my next post.