Updated: Jun 27, 2021
Happiness is like a cat.
If you chase it, it will run away.
You have to do your thing,
whether it's focusing on the task at hand,
or the person in front of you.
Then the cat will sidle up to you, purring.
When we chase or seek happiness, we are reinforcing two non-useful ideas. First is that we are currently lacking happiness. Second is that happiness comes from the outside. In reality, happiness comes from the inside, and it comes when we aren't seeking it.
This poem gives us two keys to happiness. First is deep work. When we do work that is just a bit above our ability level, it helps us get into flow state. In flow state, we are very concentrated, mentally engaged, and at peace; we can do difficult tasks with seeming ease, and it feels euphoric. But we have to focus on the task at hand and not get distracted by things like social media and emails. If we can do tasks that are meaningful to us, we will naturally be attracted to it and not be interested in distractions. And if the task is just challenging enough, then we can get into flow.
The second key to happiness, and probably the easier one to access, is to focus on the person in front of you. In other words, it means helping others and building relationships. Both ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that relationships are key to happiness. When we feel connected to others, we feel happy. When we help others, we feel happy. When we feel like there are people in the world who want us to be part of their lives, we feel happy.
The Blue Zones, which are areas around the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives, serve as proof of these two keys to happiness. In the five Blue Zones, two things they are have in common are having a strong purpose and prioritizing relationships. They have a strong reason to get up every day. Their daily activities are meaningful to them. They also prioritize relationships over career and wealth. They respect their elders and keep them nearby, and the elders spend lots of time with the young to nurture them. It's no wonder they live such long, healthy, and happy lives!