• Zach

The Happiness Quadrant

My step-mother works really hard.  Like, bafflingly hard.  Although she is retired, has been for well over a decade, she spends her days taking care of 3 young grandbabies (ages 8 months, 3 years, and 9 years old) for 5-8 hours at a time to help her son and his wife out so they can get their work done.  My step-mother never says no whenever they ask.  Even if it means that she is worn to the bone by chasing them around and entertaining them for days at a time, she is always there to help and never asks a thing in return.  When she's not babysitting, she is taking care of her infirm aunt who nobody else in the family will even visit, taking her to the doctor, the store, and the restaurant at a snail pace.  

She works so hard at this you can see her stress levels wearing her away like waves on a rock.  When I looked at her, for years I didn't understand how she had the fortitude to selflessly help out in very tough situations day in, day out for years at a time.  I certainly don't have that sort of commitment.  But recently, I think I figured out why she does this sort of service.  It all has to do with "The Happiness Quadrant".  

"The Happiness Quadrant" is a way of evaluating choices and actions in a more systematic way to optimize happiness.  As a quadrant, it is composed of four aspects: Money, Community, Purpose, and Health - both physical and mental.  When you are evaluating whether or not to take an action, think about how it will impact those four areas.  The more it will positively impact as many of those areas as possible, the better it will make your life and improve your happiness.  

Money impacts your happiness in several key ways.  For me, the less money you have, the more debt you have, the more stress you are likely to have in your life.  If you're always one paycheck from not being able to pay your sizable credit card, mortgage, car loan, etc, then you have to do everything you can to keep your job, even if you hate your work.  This is a very common and stressful situation that many people find themselves in.  Stress elevates your cortisol levels, and this hormone with prolonged exposure can literally kill you with heart attacks and strokes and destroy most of the systems in your body, giving you ulcers, migraines, and a variety of other ailments that significantly reduce your quality of life and increase your misery.  Besides that, money gives us options.  We can choose alternatives that are more enjoyable or allow us time with family and friends.  All decisions should be considered with their possible impact on your finances.  This isn't the only consideration, but it is an important one.  

Community is the next key component of the happiness quadrant.  Lasting joy in our lives comes from the communities we belong to, that we support and are supported by.  The relationships in our lives with family and friends are often the main reason for living, and are deeply connected to our identities.  They are who will help us when we are sick and old, and who we help in return.  They love us and allow us opportunities for service, like my step-mother.  When faced with a decision, considering how it will increase or decrease our connections to others should be a key component in what actions we take. 

Purpose is our reason we get out of bed in the morning.  Everyone's purpose is different, and you need to do some serious self-examination to figure out what you feel most alive doing.  For me, as a teacher, my purpose is to help kids learn and to create an environment where they can do so safely and feel supported.  There is often a lot of overlap here with the Community quadrant as well, and with identity.  A lot of time our jobs give us both community and purpose, but for others, their job is merely a way to make money, and their community and purpose come from their extra-curricular activities.  

Health is our final part of "The Happiness Quadrant".  It is critical to evaluate our actions on the basis of whether or not they will bring us mental and physical health.  After all, there are very few people on this planet who can be happy while they are chronically ill or suffering from mental illnesses.  

For my step-mom, her constant actions to take care of her family members makes a lot of sense when evaluated using this paradigm.  

While it may harm her Health, it gives her a sense of Purpose and Community, which are far more important to her than her own health.  As she is financially supported by my father, she doesn't have to worry about the financial impact, and that allows her to act on her priorities in other the other elements.  This illustrates a key aspect of the Quadrant: You set your own priorities.  

For some people, at certain times in their lives, they may value Financial considerations over health or community, but then later in life that can shift to the opposite.  You need to think about which of these are more important in your own life.  Another good example is something that is very common in the UAE, the decision to go to Brunch on Friday.  This could improve the community aspect of your life, giving you fond memories and friendships forged in the fire of bubbly and rich foods.  However, it's probably financially harmful, and probably does bad things for your health.  It may be a neutral action in terms of your purpose, but you could also have been using that time and money to further your purpose, so it could be negative there as well.  If you are a person who values community over all others, that could lead you to make the decision to go to those brunches until you run out of money or die of a heart attack or liver failure.  Other people with different priorities might choose to use that time running on the beach with friends or playing board games or volunteering at an animal shelter.  

Once you do some serious self-examination and you know your purpose and priorities, this system can help you maximize the happiness in your life.  And after all, the only logical pursuit is happiness.  

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