Remember when you were young and so excited about going out to a loud ear deafening party or club? Then one day, you realized that you find pure joy staying home in piece and quiet? What happened? The two paths of happiness tells the story of how we shifted our paths toward happiness.
If you really just want to simplify it, there are only two paths to happiness. One is to add joy or pleasure and the other would be to remove pain or discomfort. Simply put, you can either add positives or remove negatives to increase happiness. You can add joy by buying a new car to replace your old one. If you have the flu, you can become happier by removing that negative by taking medication and getting rid of that discomfort. On the other hand, you add unhappiness when you remove positives or add negatives to your life. Let's focus on positive actions.
Most of us are conditioned to think about adding pleasure and joy to life. It is a drive that we think about early in life because we tend to live a rather painless life when we are young. We have not had the heart ache of a shattered heart. We do not have the physical pains of tired muscles and milage ridden bones. We do not have the anxiety and stress of adulthood like mortgages, consumer debt, inadequacy of retirement, and the dependency of other human beings on us. When pain and comfort is not on our daily minds, the easiest way to increase happiness is to just add joys. Self indulgence is the way. We chase the joys of sex, youthful fun, and the novelty of everything new. We strive to have more money as a means to adding joy. We strive to impress others to get add more joy. Vacations, experiences, love, and material possessions are quick paths to the state of happiness.
Somethings strange happens as we get older. We get hit in the face by baggage and old age. Both causes pain. For Greek philosopher, Epicurus, pain is any sensation that is negative and takes away from our peaceful state wether it is physical or mental. Physical pain pretty easy to understand. When you get old, your body hurts. It breaks down day by day. Little by little. Our backs hurt. We get less flexible and we break things like bones. We get diseases and other little annoying things like losing hair or needing glasses. Also this physical age causes us a degree of mental discomfort as we have to accept the fragility of life for once in our life. But mental pain can sometimes be even more debilitating. We begin to do things that we do not want like purposeless work or mind numbing traffic or the financial obligations of adulthood. Knowledge becomes anxiety and stress. Another cause of pain, fear starts to appear as we experience more and more life. The longer we live, the more fear we have. Fear becomes a mental road block to adding joy. We learn that there are trade offs to the decisions that we make. The joys of falling in love also come with the possibility of a broken heart. But the scars lingers in the fears of being hurt again so we live less carefree with the possibility of our hearts being broken into thousands of pieces again. Sometimes we do not chase that joy anymore in fear of the pain. So we start living a life of not blissful ignorance but painful consciousness. Petrified to chase some joys, we live in fear just trying to avoid pain. Now that we live in pain, our goals shift from adding joy to just removing or avoiding pain. Date night away from the amazing two feet tall masters that you call your children - euphoric. Three day weekends away from your idiotic boss - amazing. Two hour massages to soothe burnt out muscles and a chaotic brain; pure bliss. Drinking away the night so we do not have to worry about the future - a great escape. Just sleeping in without being disturbed in pure quiet - heaven.
In the end, there is only really two paths toward happiness. When we are young, we blissfully chase the power of adding joy while as we age, we strive to just remove the pain. Either way, both paths end up making us happier. That is why we do not go clubbing when we get older, we are just more happier than way.