Happiness is not Positive or Negative

Weekly I/O#41

Happiness is not positive or negative thoughts but an absence of desire, and maybe it is a skill that can be learned.

Book: The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness

People mistakenly believe happiness is just about positive thoughts. However, Naval said the more he read, learned, and experienced, the more he believed that: every positive thought essentially holds within it a negative thought. If I say I'm happy, that means I'm sad at some point. If I say someone's attractive, it means someone isn't.

Therefore, for Naval, happiness is not about positive thoughts or negative thoughts. It's about the absence of desire for external things. Happiness is a default state where we remove the sense of something missing in our life. Without being trapped in the web of desires, our minds stop regretting things in the past or planning things in the future.

In the book, he said:

"Ten years ago, if you would have asked me how happy I was, I would have dismissed the question. I didn't want to talk about it.

On a scale of 1–10, I would have said 2/10 or 3/10. Maybe 4/10 on my best days. But I did not value being happy.

Today, I am a 9/10. And yes, having money helps, but it's actually a very small piece of it. Most of it comes from learning over the years my own happiness is the most important thing to me, and I've cultivated it with a lot of techniques.

Maybe happiness is not something you inherit or even choose, but a highly personal skill that can be learned, like fitness or nutrition."

I'm also curious how Naval is influenced by some philosophers since Naval's view on happiness as the default state reminds me of Hegel's Dialectics. Hegelian dialectic is a form of philosophical argument in which the contradiction between a proposition (thesis) and its antithesis is resolved at a higher level of truth (synthesis). For Naval's view on happiness, the positives and the embedded negatives are resolved at a higher level: the absence of desire.

The absence of desire also appears in Eastern philosophy like Taoism (Naval quotes Tao Te Ching sometimes), Buddhism, and Western philosophy like Stoicism and Schopenhauer. In this case, maybe the appreciation of art is also the solution for Naval, as it claimed to be the solution for Schopenhauer?

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