Happiness Cannot Be Given, It Must Be Earned

The thought of the day, triggered by this Ben Casnocha post that quotes a book review by Eric Falkenstein:

He states that the key factor in one’s happiness–not experiential happiness, but ‘remembered happiness’ that is more correlated with ‘life satisfaction’, see Kahneman on the difference–is ‘perceived earned success’. This is the willingness and ability to create value in your life or the life of others. He states that if you ask someone if they feel like they are creating such value, they are happy, regardless of how much they make. Giving people money, via welfare or inheritance, does not make people happy, because this if anything discourages the effort needed to find and develop such a niche.

This is why lottery winners are unhappy; while they have the trappings of success, they know they didn’t earn it.

This is why overnight sensations struggle to stay on top, whereas those who struggled through a longer ascent often remain successful.

This is why our culture of eliminating failure and doling out praise to everyone regardless of performance is so pernicious.

Failure and feeling inadequate may be painful, but pain has a purpose. It tells you to try something else. Eliminating pain eliminates the prod to progress.

As a parent, I hate to see my children fail. When they feel pain, I feel it even worse. But we must not be so selfish as to deprive them of the privilege of failure simply to salve our own feelings. Failure is not only an option, it is the best teacher, and something our children must learn to process, accept, and learn from.

We cannot give our children happiness; all we can do is give them the opportunity to earn it.

4 thoughts on “Happiness Cannot Be Given, It Must Be Earned

  1. And plenty of information about all the great ways people can build value in their lives, thereby creating happiness as a side-effect (as I'm sure you had in mind already). I like teaching my kids ideas like "learning to handle challenges improves your skills and makes you happier" and "focussing on the positive makes you feel better, focussing on the bad side of things makes you miserable" etc. Then we talk about times this happened to them, or apply it to ongoing difficulties/ fears.

    Apologies for the impromptu parenting manual…you got me thinking; maybe we can give kids a bit more than opportunity- tools that work, say. Then they have to use them.

  2. Chris – I found you from your recent post on Super Angels in VentureBeat, a very nice post that I will likely comment on as well.

    I stumbled to this post on happiness, which seems to be a hot topic that is gaining steam over the past year or so. I recently blogged on the topic as well here – http://bit.ly/bp3qIg.

    Two decent books on the topic are out there if your readers are interested – one is in my blog post from Gretchen Rubin called The Happiness Project. The other is written by the founder of Zappos Tony Hsieh, called Delivering Happiness, which I have not read. I recommend Gretchen's book.

    I couldn't agree more with the quote you pulled in this post "This is the willingness and ability to create value in your life or the life of others." and your examples bring it to life. Thanks for sharing

  3. Alice,

    Sounds like you have a great handle on parenting your kids. Carol Dweck's "Mindset" provides a great framework and set of tools for thinking about these things.


    Delighted you stopped by, especially since we have so much in common (HBS, collaboration, interest in happiness). Were you at E2.0?

    I'm a fan of Gretchen's work, and would like to get to Tony's book once I'm done with the Zappos culture book!

  4. Reminds me of Arthur Brooks book The Battle. There seems to be a growing realization by many of us that one of the reasons why America has worked so well is due to our culture of free enterprise. Not only does the recent 'change' agenda push the limits of fiscal responsibility, it also undermines the very core principles upon which our country has function. This is why I believe we are suffering through an existential malaise at the moment. Thanks for the great posts!

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