“To me, happiness is about an expectation of positive change. Every year before 2016, there was an improvement in my expectations — in the team, the product, or the company. This was the first time in my life when the present year felt worse than the last.“
The above quote come from Sahil Lavingia’s Medium article titled “Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company”, which recounts how he built what by any normal standard would be considered a successful business but a failure by traditional Venture Capital standards (and as he says, his own). The article raises a number of interesting points I’ll pick up on in a future post but today, I wanted to speak to Sahil’s definition of happiness, which resonated with me personally and, I think, will resonate with many of you as well.
In general, I think we’d all agree that happiness is a difficult (if not impossible) concept to define in tangible terms. Happiness isn’t about a nice house, a nice car or body fat percentage. We can’t (no matter how much we try) buy our way to happiness, no more than we can be given it through any amount of money. So happiness isn’t a tangible good or service.
At the same time, though, intangible definitions such as comfort, safety, risk, etc. don’t really help us, either. They’re too subjective and, frankly, relative - they’re different for different folks. For example, my requirements for comfort, safety and risk are markedly different in practical terms to, say, Alex Honnold’s - and yet neither of our requirements are wrong. We’re both right.
So while it’s difficult to settle on a universal definition in any traditional way, I do like Sahil’s broader definition of happiness as being defined by our expectations - essentially from the perspective of rates of change, if you will.
So long as I have positive expectations about the future, I can find meaning and hope and, therefore, happiness in my current path. As long as I can expect things to move positively as I go forward (again defined however you’d like) then that’s meaningful and real to me.
But when I lose that sense of positive expectation, I’m in trouble. Without that expectation of positive change, there’s hesitation, uncertainty (the kind you don’t want), stasis, and ultimately entropy. Without that positive expectation, there’s little in the way of hope.
So it resonates - to me, at least - that so long as we’re focused and expecting positive change, we’re on the path to happiness. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that we can’t or shouldn’t be focused on our present. We absolutely need to live in the moment and find the values and virtues in our everyday lives. I definitely believe in and agree with that.
But continued happiness does require positive anticipation. Anticipation that we not only hope for but can work towards. The perception that our lot in life will get better in some way.
And that, to me, makes a lot of sense.