What Makes You Happy

Food for Thought @ HARBS

“What makes you happy?” seems like an easy question to answer, but most of us don’t know. It’s misleading and confusing because this “you” has multiple possible candidates.

While chatting at this Japanese cafe in SoHo, Chris told me he didn’t enjoy computer programming when he studied it. He was wise enough to stop; he knew himself well enough, what makes him happy or unhappy. The idea of studying it made practical sense because he is tech-savvy, but technology and programming do not overlap entirely. It’s easy to get confused.

I’ve met many people who pursued a career as a programmer solely because the skill is in demand. Being wanted in the job market can make you happy, but this “you” is different from the “you” referred to in my original question—it’s your ego. What your ego wants is easy to figure out, like money, fame, power, a big house, a fancy car, an exotic vacation, etc.

Many people say they want to be writers, but writing is a struggle for them. There is a difference between liking the idea of being a “writer” and enjoying the process of writing. The former is what makes your ego happy, and the latter is what makes you happy.

But just because you know what makes you happy, doesn’t mean your goal in life should be to make a living from it. This is the question Chris and I often puzzle over. There is nothing wrong with turning your passion into a profession, but the latter is an equation based on supply and demand; it’s not entirely up to you to decide what the market pays for.

Everything meaningful in life emerges out of making compromises, but when they are for survival, what you gain is what your art loses. It’s not like the compromises you make between an iPhone camera and a professional camera, where each has its strengths and weaknesses.

We humans are ceaselessly trying to die so that our creations can survive. Even biologically, when we procreate and pass on our genes, we are rendering ourselves obsolete—it’s an act of dying. In this sense, we could say we are driven to die. Ultimately, what makes you happy comes at the cost of your survival.