Happiness does not come from solving problems

Conrad Lin
Conrad Lin
min read
May 2, 2021
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Key Takeaways

  • Whenever we solve a problem, we move onto a higher order need
  • True happiness comes from a feeling of belonging - a community feeling
  • We can build community feeling through self-acceptance and contribution to others

What truly makes us happy? For a long time in my life, I thought that happiness would come through solving problems. Pain is often our greatest motivator, as it's a strong survival instinct that drives us to make tremendous changes in our lives. I often thought that as long as we continue to reduce suffering in our lives, the journey and the destination will eventually bring us happiness.

Over many years, I realized that the joy from solving a problem is very fleeting, and we quickly fixate on the next inconvenience in our lives. So why does this happen, and are we simply doomed to suffer eternally?

Maslov's Hierarchy Of Needs

In 1943, Abraham Maslov proposed a framework for understanding behavioral motivation. He shared the idea that individuals' most basic needs must be met before they become motivated to achieve higher-level needs.

It's been my experience that every time I solved a problem, a new, tougher challenge would emerge. Typically, it would be a challenge that I would have never thought it to be important before! We even had a new age term for this - first-world problems.

Maslov's hierarchy explained why we:

  1. Are not satisfied for long whenever we achieve something
  2. Constantly discover new problems that need solving

When we are fixated on a problem, it is usually something that is currently important to us. When we are lacking our basic needs, our pain for physiological and safety needs is high. We desire material goods in order to take care of ourselves and our families. When we are lacking our psychological needs, we are thirsting for recognition and acknowledgment from our community. And when we reach the pinnacle of the human experience, we desire self-actualization: the achievement of one's full potential.

What I took away from this model was that if we base our happiness on the metric of success in the level of the pyramid we are in, we will always be unhappy, because whenever we cross to the next level, we will have new problems.

But what happens when we reach the final level? Will self-actualization make us happy?

Adler's Model For Happiness

Alfred Adler (1870–1937), was a world-renowned philosopher and psychiatrist that shared explicit ideas about what makes humans happy, especially within their social context. He proposed that to be happy is achieving what he calls a 'community feeling'. To achieve community feeling, one must have self-acceptance and contribution to others.

Self Acceptance

Self-acceptance is about knowing where you are now and figuring out how to get where you want to go. As humans, we all have a desire to be self-reliant, and we can achieve this through the pursuit of superiority.

The pursuit of superiority is a universal desire to escape from a helpless state and improve/pursue an ideal state. It is a stimulate for normal, healthy striving, and growth.

- Alfred Adler

The important thing to note is that the negative manifestations of the pursuit of superiority are a superiority or inferiority complex. This usually manifests when one engages in competition to be greater than other people, instead of focusing on their own journey to keep moving in a forward direction. When you engage in competition, there are winners and losers, and you start seeing people as enemies. This also hinders our ability to contribute to others effectively.

Contribution To Others

If we can see that people are our comrades - those who always have the will to help another in times of need, we can live in harmony with society. We all have life tasks that we embark on - those of work, friendship, and love. We should aim to not intrude on others' life tasks, because those are out of our control, and instead, focus on what we can do today.

By pursuing our ideal self, we will find that our life tasks will inevitably provide value to the community. Through this experience, you will learn that you have the ability, which feeds back into self-acceptance. One important point Adler makes is that contribution to others does not mean that you have to perform any specific acts. We are of use to others and have worth just by being here.

Imagine your mother had a car accident. Her condition is serious, and her life may be in danger. At a time like that, you would be thinking that you're very glad that she's holding on right now. Just by being alive, she is supporting the psychological state of you and your family.

If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend The Courage To Be Disliked, which shares a compelling introduction to Adlerian psychology structured as a Socratic dialogue.

Building A System For Happiness

I believe that there is merit in both models, and there are probably plenty of other models that I can learn from still. The best thing about our era is that there is so much knowledge available, that the difficulty is in processing the information and making it useful for our day-to-day lives.

When we are struggling for our basic needs, it is very difficult to think of anything other than the immediate and very real danger of death by starvation or mother nature. We are in fight or flight mode every day, and stressors are at 11. This system will not be for them.

But, if your basic needs are met, and you find yourself struggling to find happiness, this may prove useful for your growth journey.

The 3 Keys To Happiness

Pursue self-actualization as early as you can.

I believe that self-actualization and self-acceptance comes hand in hand. When we pursue the path of finding our true potential, we are searching for our ideal selves. In this journey, try to focus on your own tasks, and avoid competition wherever you can. Aim to get to a stage where you are self-reliant, and gain the confidence that you have the ability.

Find your own way of contributing to others

Through your journey of self-actualization, be mindful of how you can contribute to others. Sometimes just being present is enough - listening and learning from others, and sharing stories of your own that can help your community level up.

Embrace community feeling

When you are able to find your place in the world and feel that you are contributing to others, you will inevitably feel a sense of belonging with your community. The best thing is, this is something that is well within reach for all of us.

In the Co-x3 Family, we've built a space where we can pursue the pursuit of self-actualization and happiness together. It's a community where share knowledge to level up and tools to take action on our learning so we can level up together.

We believe it is through the creation and sharing of systems that we can learn and grow as fast as we can and support each other on our growth journeys.

In-person gift exchange at our Family Without Borders house in Singapore!

Last year, I embarked on a journey of self-actualization, and discovered that family is the answer. This year, I'm optimizing for happiness.

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