If you haven’t been following the conversation in my post on Maile’s Naikan Challenge, you should definitely check it out. It’s one of the best bunch of comments I’ve ever received on any post to this blog. There were a lot of great insights into happiness and it’s relation to introspection and other feelings.
I started to write a long reply with my own thoughts and reactions to what others have said, but I thought it might be better to just put it into a new post. Follow the link above and read the original post and comments first to understand the context of the rest of this post. Here’s what I came up with:
At the risk of sounding contradictory, I’m inclined to agree with most of what’s been said here.
Statistics have shown that students who review what they did wrong (and what they did right) on a graded exam or paper are much more likely to receive a higher grade for the course. Likewise, if we take time to review what’s happened in our life, we may be able to learn from our mistakes and make some improvements.
At the same time, I can see a danger in this. We’ve all made big mistakes in our lives at one time or another. Reviewing and figuring out what went wrong can be a healthy thing to do after the dust has settled. However, constant dwelling on a mistake can also bring an overwhelming sense of guilt, shame, sorrow, etc. If dealt with properly, this can be accepted and we can move on with our lives.
If we can’t accept it or deal with it properly on our own, it can lead to major stress, unhappiness, and depression. I think this is what Valentin is talking about. Sometimes the big things in life are just too big for us to handle and are sometimes better left in the past. Is it really necessary to deal with everything bad that’s ever happened to us in order to move on with our lives? What we do now is far more important than what we did in the past.
I do think this technique of Naikan can be helpful. If we can just be more thankful for what we’ve got, it can help reduce that feeling of dissatisfaction with life to a point where it no longer stops us from progressing. It’s easy at times to feel that the mountains of life are just too hard to climb. Being thankful is like turning away from the mountain ahead and looking back at the one you just climbed. Maybe you’ll realize that the one behind you was steeper and more treacherous than any of those ahead. This changes your perspectives, doesn’t it?
As far as what makes people happier? I’m coming to the conclusion more and more that the answer is deceptively simple. It may be different for different people, but maybe Curly in City Slickers had the right idea. According to imdb.com, the conversation goes like this:
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.