Thursday, June 5, 2014

The “Secret to Happiness” Isn't on LinkedIn

LinkedIn's machine learning algorithms have decided that I need to be emailed daily with vacuous deepities from every self-proclaimed “life coach” on their multi-million user site, when, in fact, I hold them in contempt and put them into two categories: charlatans and clowns.

The charlatans prey on the insecurities that about half of us share: we don't like our jobs, we wonder if we were “meant to do” something else, our marriages or relationships could be better, we procrastinate, we feel guilty, or trapped, or unhappy or all of the above. The “cure” to all your ills is their patent medicine, their “Secret of Happiness” and as surely as snake-oil comes in a bottle, it's always the same hackneyed aphorism: “work towards being able to “pursue your passion” as a job even if it means taking a small pay-cut”, swiftly followed by a liberal dose of loosely connected banalities.

Almost worse than the charlatans are the semi-literate deluded clowns, who — having, to all appearances, dropped out of school and never been within a bull's bellow of an introductory philosophy or psychology book — nevertheless believe they're in a position to hawk hokey cornball platitudes to the rest of us (in fairness, I don't know if this particular “coach” is a charlatan or a clown, but, either way, I wouldn't give you the gum off the back of a stamp for five hundred of her moth-eaten potboilers).

The reality is that happiness is amenable to scientific inquiry and can be studied empirically. There are legitimate “happiness researchers” in psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience. Here's the upshot of what we know: happiness is approximately
  • 50% genetic,
  • 40% attitude, and
  • 10% all the shit people think it's about.
If you're wondering what the hell I'm talking about, then you may have lucked out in the genetic component and just be naturally predisposed toward happiness, as opposed to your less fortunate counterpart on the other side with dysthymia.

But the really important points here are twofold:
  • your “career”, relationships, finances, etc. basically don't matter a shit; and
  • you can learn to change your “attitude”.
So you're really happy with the promotion you got today? Won the lottery today? Feeling on top of the world? In 6 months, you'll be at about the same level of happiness that you were up to yesterday. Just lost your legs in a car accident? Feeling suicidal? In 6 months you'll be at about the same level of happiness that you were up to yesterday. We adjust.

Empirical evidence suggests that spending 15–30 minutes every day cultivating mindful awareness or practising CBT techniques will do more for your long-term happiness than any new job, spouse, or money, and certainly more than any vapid drivel peddled on LinkedIn.

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