While reading the newspaper on my Kindle (and apparently checking out my archives), Al recently remarked that I’d read 100 books since Christmas. Probably way more than that, because for some books, only the real thing, with actual pages to turn, will do, and Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, is one of them.
Some books I know I’m going to spend time with, studying and underlining and going back to over and over again. This is one of them. And today’s chapter on setting goals seemed so relevant to writers and the pursuit of writing. For example, when we learn “the proper relationship between goal and process, between destination and journey…our goals can lead us to higher levels of well-being.”
In other words, for writers, that means enjoying the process (writing) as well as aiming for the end result (publication). In fact enjoying the process, according to Ben-Shahar, is way more likely to make us happy in the long-term than the short-term joy of getting a book contract or seeing our name in print. I know! It seems hard to believe, but this guy teaches a class on happiness at Harvard;-) so he’s gotta be on to something.
Why does enjoying the process of writing make us happier than getting published? Because everyone has a baseline happiness level and a week or so after a peak experience like signing with an agent, landing a book deal, seeing our name in print, we go back to our same old happiness set point.
Which is why it’s the everyday experiences that we need to work on enriching. Although “striving after goals is…crucial for happiness” Ben-Shahar has found that “for sustained happiness, we have to change the expectations we have of our goals.”
“The goals need to be meaningful and the journey they take us on needs to be pleasurable for them to bring about a significant increase in our happiness.” So, if you want to be a happier writer, make goals that are “interesting and personally important” and center around “growth, connection, and contribution rather than goals that center around money, beauty, and popularity.”
There’s much more to this book, and with each chapter I feel lighter and lighter, because the burden of being a failure is lifted if happiness is not so much about the end result but way more about the process. If your main goal in life is to be happy. Sometimes I forget that not everybody has that as a main goal.
But if being happy is a high priority to you, and you’re an unhappy, unpublished writer, and a lot of your unhappiness comes from the fact that you are not published, take heart and focus more on the parts of writing that make you happy. For me, it’s words. Just writing words down and making them into sentences. I get such a kick out of that. Still!
Also, I love telling myself stories. And people fascinate me, so that’s character and motivation and setting. I even like the physical act of clicking my laptop keys or writing in a notebook. I am not as fond of revision, but if I remind myself that I am still playing with words and sentences and characters and story, I like it better.
Also, I’m a huge reader, and revision gets my stories closer to the kind I read and admire. There’s another kind of satisfaction in that.