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Screwing Up Plans and the Fear Of Missing Out

The Israeli portion of my trip was, at best, poorly organized. I knew I had just over a week and I figured I’d go to Tel Aviv and… do something. I’d probably also go… other places?

On Thursday, the day before I left Ramallah, I figured I should probably come up with a plan. I did some last minute googling and found two places - Haifa and Masada - that seemed cool, and threw Jerusalem on the list as well. A few days in each spot would be a pretty solid week, so I found an Airbnb in Haifa and headed out.

Some more Googling and I found a few really cool things in Haifa. Apparently it has some great surf spots, the beautiful Baha'i Gardens, an awesome open market, and a great boardwalk. I could easily do all this in the 60ish hours I was planning on being there. I had a great first day in Haifa walking the boardwalk (check!) and heading to a BBQ with a new friend.

Then I slept for almost 12 hours. And that’s when things started falling apart.

The Happiness Theorem: Extrapolation over Speculation

On Philosophy Assists

What could be more clichéd that this? The first thing that I talk about is happiness. Don’t we all want to be happy? Well, seriously, I don’t know about you, but I do.

I don’t think I know more about happiness than the next person, but I know what I do not know (a little bit of Socrates there). What I mean is I am aware of how uncertain it is that a lot of things that are supposed to make me happy will make me happy. Take wealth for example. I have a decent income, but do I know what it would be like to be super-rich. Yes, I can see super-rich people on TV and they seem to be happy, but how do I know that being super-rich will make me happy? Family is another example. If I don’t have kids, how am I supposed to know whether having kids would make me happy? Again, I can look at others who have kids and have them tell me how wonderful it is to be a parent. But given that different people get happiness from different things, what rationalizes the belief that just because it makes them happy, it will make me happy?

All these models for happiness are simply too speculative, too hypothetical and too elusive to qualify as rational grounds for pursuing a certain goal. Imagine starting a family because other people tell you how great kids are and then finding out that it’s not really for you. That’ll be one happy child I bet. And, by the way, please don’t fall for this whole “It’s a human instinct to get happiness from being a parent” – wrong! I know plenty of parents who are not happy, and I know plenty of happy people who are not parents. And for all I know, they are all human.

So if looking at others does not do the trick, what does? I think that math can teach a lesson here, what? Math? Yes, math. Mathematicians often have limited information as to what a graph looks like. But sometimes based on this information, because they know how to, they can determine the complete curve. This, if I am not mistaken, is known as extrapolation. Can we treat our happiness function in the same way? Can we extrapolate a happy life and how would that work?

How it works for me is that I look into my life so far and I try to identify situations when I am happy. These situations can be longer periods of time like for instance jobs I worked or places I have lived, but also shorter intervals like a night out with a certain group of friends, or a conversation with a certain person. Supposing that it is true that these experiences made me happy, all I would have to do is maximize this kind of experience in my life. So what I have to think about is not how I can achieve what other have achieved, but how I can cultivate the small amounts of happiness that exist in my own life. Of course once we reach this point, the way ahead is still not entirely clear, but I think the realization alone is an important one.

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