I'm preparing for a talk I'm doing about a book called Happier by Harvard psychology professor Tal Ben-Shahar. In this inspiring book, Ben-Shahar points out that most of us tend to focus on the achievement of goals, rather than the process involved in achieving them. A former Israeli squash champion, Ben-Shahar says he felt "empty" after winning at squash. In this book, he writes, "Happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak."
Of course, any time I read something inspiring, I think about writing -- and the writing process. It's wonderful to hold a finished book in your hands, but the real satisfaction comes from hammering out the story (or whatever else you're working on). Anyway, there's another quote in the book that really spoke to me. It comes from a researcher named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who says: "the best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile." I love that part about stretching. Csikszentmihalyi seems to be saying that we enjoy challenges, especially when they're of our own choice ("voluntary effort") or when we really believe in what they represent ("worthwhile"). I know I love stretching when I do yoga -- but until I read this quote, I never thought about stretching in brainier ways!
Isn't it nice to have a long weekend? Hope yours doesn't go too quickly!!
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I agree with Csikszentmihalyi's quote -- I love the feeling I get when I finally accomplish something difficult, or anything that requires a lot of work, really. Knowing that all the hours of hard work were worth the result gives me a feeling of satisfaction (okay, and some pride, too) and pushes me to try to reach the next level. However, I think that Ben-Shahar's quote is true only in retrospect, for me, anyway -- while I'm working towards a goal, I'll tend to feel discouraged after some time and only after achieving my goal do I feel the happiness that is due to having "climbed the peak", because, if there was no peak, there'd be no feeling of achievement...
As a side note, it's wonderful to have a long weekend, and I've used it well up to now -- ski day on Friday (though it was horribly windy and cold), homework yesterday (just to get it all over with), guests over for Easter today and tomorrow, I'm planning on starting to pack for Toronto with the Robotics Regional this week. Thanks goodness for the 4 days off -- I'd hate to have to condense all of that in a 2-day weekend!
I love professor Tal Ben-Shahar's point about happiness coming from the process, and not always the finished product. I always feel fantastic while and after doing homework non-stop, instead of procrastinating and then blaming myself for wasting all my time (which still finishes with getting the work done, but I feel disgusted). For me, doing homework voluntary takes a lot of willpower, but feels fantastic, so well it's well worth the effort. I don't know how to explain this, but I feel different kinds of happiness when accomplishing different things. For example, the homework type seems to compare to a light breeze, while finishing a book is similar to rain, which I find to be beautiful, powerful and melodic. A sport accomplishment will be like a journey at sea... ( I know, I'm not normal... ;D )
What a perfect time to read this! I have my skating solo test tomorrow and it seems like the culmination of all the work I've put into the sport in the past 8 months. I also know that I get incredibly nervous on test days and I tend not to do as well as I'm capable of. So even if I fail tomorrow, I guess I'll just have to tell myself that I was happy all along climbing to the peak...and then I just happened to fall off the mountain at the last moment!