Start by figuring out the important stuff

The recipe for happiness has a simple first rule: Do right now what is important right now. A woman or man wasting their life in meaningless activity, even if they feel “entertained” while doing so, will not find happiness. Reversely: If what you do is important to you, you are likely to achieve happiness, even if the work is very hard.

Natural Importance

It is not entirely your own choice what you find important.

You could compare your sense of “importance” with your taste buds. Sure, you may enjoy your individual tastes, but in general most of what we like or dislike is the same for all humans. Most people prefer sweet food, most people prefer not eating rotten food, only Australians prefer Marmite.

Taste and importance are similar in some ways. You are born to like certain tastes. You are born to find certain matters important. You are born to find children adorable. You are born with a desire for human interaction. And just like with taste, some importance and values differ from individual to individual.

What unites us

The artist Sting once sang: “I hope the Russians love their children too.”

Sting expresses his hope that shared values (“children are important to us”) will overcome political differences.

The song Russians is political, no doubt. But there is another dimension to the artist’s lyrics. All humans share certain values. Some structures–e.g. children–are important to us, whatever our language, belief, or nationality.

When it comes to what is important to you, what gives your life meaning and a foundation for long term happiness, there are several aspects that unite you with all other humans. That is beautiful, if you think about it.

What makes us different

Depending on where your home is, how you were raised, who you met, and a little what body you were born in, there are some tastes and values that are important to you, but not necessarily to others.

If you were raised in a conservative context, chances are that family and nation are extra important to you. If you were raised into a creative, artsy commune, there is an extra chance that a colorful, individual expression of the self is extra important to you. If you were raised in certain religious cultures, there is a chance that your religion is more important to you than to someone raised in a secular context.

Just like the values that unite us, our differences in considered importance can be beautiful. Problems arise when one person or group raise their own (often random to the outside observer) areas of importance above all other’s.

Figuring it out

You often do stuff, for example buying things, spending time with certain friends, or even picking a career path, without thinking about your reasons.

If you were asked, why you are doing it, you might answer: “I felt like it.”

“Feeling like it,” is different from “it is important to me!” – It is often the opposite.

Figuring out what is truly important to you is a lengthy process. But, as the saying goes, even the longest journey starts with the first step.

How do you distinguish what you “feel like doing” from “that is important to me”? What preferences and values have you “inherited,” which have you acquired on your own over the years, which were you born with? How does this play into your decisions and opinions?

Happiness needs work. The work of happiness begins with asking and answering the important questions. What is important to you? Is it the same as what you are investing your time in?