Let me state right off the bat I happen to be a fan of Penelope Trunks’s blog on Brazen Careerist. It was the first blog I subscribed to, so it’s a little disheartening that the first time I return the favor of her inspiration, I have to take issue with her word choices.
In fact, had I not been in the midst of reading Ms. Hecht’s fabulous treatise on happiness (The Happiness Myth), I might have been taken in by Trunk’s quiz is your life is happy or interesting? It did remind me of sitting on my mother’s bed with her Cosmopolitan magazine, which by and large was an enjoyable activity, apparently for both me and my mother since I always got the quiz with the answers already filled in.
So if you like that sort of thing, I highly recommend taking the quiz yourself. I promise not to take a pen to your computer screen.
However, I only felt unease when I read this statement in Ms. Trunk’s opening paragraph: I think the things that make life happy have to do with complacency, and the things that make life interesting have to do with lack of complacency.
While this statement may be true for Ms. Trunk, I don’t think it’s universal. Far from it. It’s hard to imagine the two terms being as mutually exclusive as she describes. One of the main reasons I decided to leave the security of a government job and overhaul my career was that it was too difficult to exact real change within a large bureaucracy (as a former boss would tell me, that’s by design–yes, I’ve had a lot of interesting bosses).
Ms. Trunk would lump me in with the interesting lot based on this fact and others, but the truth is this: the two concepts are inextricably connected, at least for me. I need interesting in order to be happy, but there’s no denying I also enjoy some good quality solitude and consistency.
I don’t think I’m alone. The wildly popular Tim Ferriss argues for lifestyle design in his book The Four Hour Workweek, whereby you stop doing what’s accepted (working away tirelessly at a job you aren’t thrilled by) in order to make more time for things like family, travel, and hobbies. Everything I’ve read about Ferriss seems to suggest he’s a very happy guy, who’s also quite interesting.
Instead, I feel like we’re talking semantics because we haven’t fully defined what happiness is. I rely again on Hecht’s proposition that happiness is difficult to define because there are actually three distinct kinds of happiness, which she says are related but not always in harmony with one another:
- A Good Day: filled with mild pleasures which are largely repeatable and forgettable
- Euphoria: an intense experience that usually involves risk or vulnerability
- A Happy Life: requires a lot of difficult work (studying, striving, nurturing, mourning, etc) and can often be at odds with a good day.
It seems to me Ms. Trunk’s version of happiness refers primarily to a series of good days, whereas Tim and I are largely discussing how to achieve a happy life. By the above definition, I would argue a happy life cannot be achieved in any real sense through complacency. Furthermore, complacency is poisonous if you’re trying to achieve euphoria.
But hey, what do I know? I relocated away from family and am reorganizing my life to become a nationally recognized expert in happy living. I think that makes me…interesting? Or maybe suspiciously well balanced.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.