I often times use something simple to help me understand something more complex. Much like my post Bathtub Philosophy, and how success and pursuit is healthy and ok. In this post I want to explain happiness like a campfire. Makes it easy to remember what happiness is about. I'm comparing the feel-good warmth of a fire to the feel-good warmth of being happy.
First things first how could happiness be like a campfire?
1. Well like happiness if you don't do anything it will burn out and go away. You will be left with nothing eventually.
2. Like fires happiness needs to be built and maintained and the process never ends. It is in motion, not an end.
3. A fire can be shared with others if yours is burning well, and you will warm up others.
4. Last but not least, happiness or warmth is not supposed to be felt all the time. You will have to be cold to enjoy the warmth of a fire. You will have to leave the fire to enjoy it more when you get back, and yes being too warm all the time is as bad as being cold.
MEANING will make your life worthwhile not non-stop happiness.
Ok, so let's talk about how a happy fire is built, it takes work. Your going to have to find the sticks and logs, and you'll need a spark.
Sticks - These are the things that light easy, that make you happy easy. Things like friends, good food, fun times, vacations, pleasure, etc. Throw a handful of these on your happy fire and you'll be warm in no time. What sticks lack is the ability to keep you warm for a long amount of time. You'll have to keep gathering sticks and keep leaving the fire to find them. Also, there are only so many sticks, so you may run out from time to time and if your fire is only built with sticks it may get rough.
Logs - These are the fuel that can last and last even when there are no sticks around. These are things like: family, helping people, being healthy, being honest, creating things, etc. These are crucial for a long hot fire. However you will always need sticks to keep the flame alive. They are not a replacement for sticks, only an addition.
Sparks - These are what ignite the fire, these are positive thoughts. All happiness comes from a positive thought, whether that be from you or someone else. Someone must take a happiness spark and apply it to something. Some people put too much emphasis on sparks and walk around trying to be happy by only thinking positive thoughts, meanwhile they have nothing to light. Happiness be it short term(sticks) or long term(logs) can only truly be fueled with effort(gathering more wood). Positive thoughts alone will not make you a happy person if you have nothing to apply them to.
To recap, the world without effort will be a cold place. You will need wood for your fire, and not just one size and it will take effort to get it. You will have to leave the fire to appreciate it's warmth, that's the point.
To illustrate this comparison more lets take a look at some unbalanced fires:
All Sparks - This person walks around thinking the right thoughts and not taking any action to gather wood. They get to the end of their "positive" day with a general feeling of total cold sadness. Yes they are spending their days worrying about sparks and forgetting about wood. They are lacking the effort and work ethic to build their fire. Sparks alone are not enough.
All Sparks and Sticks - This person spends their days pretty warm. They think positive, they take action and search for the easy sticks. They have a lot of fun, a lot of pleasure, and they have some great warmth for a while. The problem is they can run out of sticks. You can only go to the same tree so many times before it's out of sticks. What happens if it gets cold and they can't find those easy sticks anymore? They may get so hooked on the easy warmth that they spend their lives away from the fire searching for a bigger stick, a quicker burn, a hotter flame. Only to leave this world having spent most of their time cold and chasing.
Just Logs - This person probably had some great sparks and sticks early on but somehow they dismissed the value of keeping them in their lives. They dedicated entirely too much to family or health at one time and they forgot about how to have fun. Things got cold and with no sticks around they became quite cold with no flame. Even if there are other logs around to light for long-term warmth, they have no flame to do so. They may realize even the most noble of paths without fun and adventure can leave a person unsatisfied and cold.
All Wood No Spark - This is the guy that goes through life doing the right things yet totally unhappy. He has a family but they are draining to him. He works but not at what he loves. He does what others think is fun, even if he doesn't enjoy it. This guy has all the pieces for a great fire but no spark. He doesn't have any positive thoughts to ignite and improve his situation. He's not burning what he has so he's also not looking for new fuel. He's stuck, cold and confused. You must think positively to enjoy the fuel you've gathered. You must burn your fuel to find new fuel.
What does your fire look like? How often do you gather more wood? Are you chasing sticks? Are you cold with only slow burning logs? Is your fire fun and bright with a solid foundation of logs? Are you ok with leaving the fire so that it feels even better when you return, or do you fear being cold?
I used to have a great fear of coldness but now I realize it's part of the process. Plus it makes the fire that much better when you're back. Really the point is to find a meaning for yourself in the process of life, not to be happy all the time. So enjoy building your fire.