Acclaimed writer Penelope Trunk spent a year obsessing on what really makes people happy. She gave up a high-powered job as an executive to raise kids and blogged nearly daily about her trade. She wondered out-loud whether what her life would look like having given up one dream to pursue another. The first dream would have been more impressive to the world, she reasoned, but the dream of having a family and raising children was more appealing to her heart.
Many people were fascinated with what she discovered. She said people are often torn between two seemingly equal impulses, and could as such be be divided between two dominant instincts: the instinct to be impressive or the instinct to be happy.
To develop her theory she created a survey of seemingly random questions, questions like Do you have an opinion on Picasso? Do you have overweight friends? and Do you think Christmas is a national holiday? A person’s answers to these questions, according to Trunk, revealed how much they wanted other people to think they were impressive, and the more interested people were in being impressive, the less happy they tended to be. People who had an opinion about Picasso are more quick to form opinions about subjective topics, people with overweight friends cared more about the quality of their relationships than they did with the social value of their associations and those who think Christmas is a national holiday (it isn’t) tend to be more homogenous, and homogenous people are more happy.
Interestingly, the more impressive we try to be, the less we really know ourselves, apparently. And the less we recognize what others think of us, the more happy we are. The bottom line is if we obsess with getting people to like us, we’re less likely to be happy.
Don’s new book (still untitled, October 2014) will talk about this phenomenon a bit more. If you’d like to know when the book comes out, sign up on our mailing list. You’ll also get a free copy of Don’s audio book, Through Painted Deserts.