Forget Happiness, What Humans Really Care About Is Beating Other People


[credit provider=”University of Pennsylvania “]

Sometimes people just care about winning — no matter the cost.Consider bridge players who play for hours without smiling, not making money or making friends. “They wanted to win for its own sake, even if it brought no positive emotion,” Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times.

They were like hedge fund managers who just want to accumulate money and toys for their own sake. Watching them play, seeing them cheat, it kept hitting me that accomplishment is a human desiderata in itself.”

So it’s a myth that achieving happiness is our highest priority.

“If we just wanted positive emotions, our species would have died out a long time ago,” Seligman says. “We want meaning in life. We want relationships.” Achieving “well-being” is a dynamic process that involves pursuing things like winning for their own sake, even if they doesn’t bring us joy.

This is a lot coming from Seligman, who led the “positive psychology” movement with his 2002 bestseller, Authentic Happiness. He now says the book was off-target. He reconstructs what it means to live the good life in, Flourish: “well-being” is the combination of positive emotion, engagement in daily life, having real relationships, meaning in life, and a sense of accomplishment.

The key is figuring out what’s most important to us, and then focusing on that. And usually, happiness comes as a result: it’s called delayed gratification.