Short-term vs. Long-term Happiness
Happiness is a tricky subject. Deceptive, even.
Short-term happiness is all around us. Ice cream. Casual sex. Just lazing about, doing nothing. But is this what happiness is all about?
Long-term happiness can also be quite deceptive; at first glance, it doesn’t appear to be happiness at all. Hard work. Minding what you eat. Going to bed on time. Exercising.
Now, I’m not saying we should only go for long-term happiness. Yes, hard work is important. But being a puritan does not work (as history so clearly demonstrates).
Rather, moderation is key. The problem with “short-term happiness” activities is that they must be done moderately – not too much, not too often. But their call can be strong. And moderation is a quality (or a skill) that certainly falls under the “long-term happiness” category.
All around us, the call of instant gratification beckons. When is the last time you’ve seen an ad proclaiming the benefits of eating a healthy, simple, sensible diet? And when is the last time you’ve seen an ad pushing sex?
Another way of looking at short-term happiness is that it is most often a distraction. It’s there, it’s available, it’s easy. “Why not? What’s the harm?”
Sometimes it’s true. But often, pursuing something because it would make me happy right now goes directly against a loftier, long-term happiness goal.
The most common example is again, junk food: Having a slice of pizza right now would certainly not kill me; it would, however, drive me that much farther away from my fitness or appearance goals (which are long-term, and not so easy to visualize).
Food is cliche. I’m sure you can find other examples in work, relationships,
Is All Short-Term Fun Bad? #
First of all, it’s not “bad”. I’m just saying — don’t indulge too much. And if you don’t trust yourself, don’t indulge at all.
But I would like to make a distinction between short-term fun which is directly contrary to your long term goals and short-term fun which simply does not contribute.
Opposing your goals: Browsing porn while at work.
Not contributing to your goals: Watching five episodes of a TV show you like, in a row, on your own free time.
These are not the same. I would say the latter is less destructive, but you’re still not any better off when you’re done with it.
I’m writing this for two reasons. One is to remind myself, and make my own personal pact with myself. I am going for long-term happiness, as uncool as it may seem at times.
The second reason is that I feel compelled to push against the endless torrent of ads, articles, websites, lame sitcoms, and other media which is trying to lure me (and you, I believe) into the trap of “easy, fast, fun”.
Long-term happiness is not good for business. To get yourself into shape, you just need a pair of running shoes and some space. And mostly, real determination, realistic expectations and the ability to exert yourself on a regular basis. These don’t cost anything.
Cause vs. Effect #
Another interesting distinction between long-term fun and short-term fun is that “short-term fun” is almost always about putting yourself at the effect-point of something. Eating chocolate, sitting and watching TV, shopping — these are all activities which are easy and comfortable to experience when playing the role of an effect.
There is also the matter of the rising stimulation threshold. As time goes by, we need more and more to make us feel the same rush as the first time. And this is true not only for drugs, but for any sensory activity — for anything which is instantly gratifying, really.
This is not to say that we should never experience short-term fun. But again, moderation is the key to keeping the senses sharp and not losing the marvel of the first time.
“Long-term fun” requires you to be much more causative, and exert energy or determination. You are expected to have some drive. Losing weight, mastering a musical instrument, learning a new skill — these are all things which would make most people quite happy, but they all require exertion and
With time, we become soft. Physically, mentally, and spiritually. We become conditioned to not exerting ourselves, until at last, we really cannot exert ourselves. It is too much, too difficult.
This is what is known as “growing old”. And these days, it happens to people when they are 15 years old, not 80.
Am I a Bitter Old Man? #
This all sounds very severe and serious, right? No chocolate! No casual sex!
But I beg to differ. I think there is a world of joy, real joy — guilt-free, productive, proud pleasure. There is endless beauty and fun in rediscovering your own power, and in realizing long-term goals.
Just my two cents.