the other blog post i was going to write

It’s always unnerving to realize that your happiness is highly correlated with some particular event, object, person, substance, or thought pattern. Various components of pop culture have led us to believe that happiness is {a warm gun | two kinds of ice cream | high serotonin levels | coca-cola} and so forth, but nobody ever says that happiness is a volatile multidimensional product of quickly-fluctuating vectors along a dozen axes.

For a while I thought that happiness was jumping on a plane with the wrong power adapter and a boarding pass that you aren’t sure how you managed to pay for. I did this last week, and it felt good (long walks, surrealistic jetlag, mint tea, sharing beds with old friends, riesling, cold arms, trampling through abandoned grass) until I got a 103 degree (F) fever on the plane ride home and was decapacitated for two days.

One loveable thing about a non-permanent, non-excruciating-but-still-debilitating sickness is that it pares down expectations until they’re almost manageable. Happiness becomes a two-step process: (1) regain appetite until soup sounds like it would be okay, and (2) obtain soup.

As I got better, I started to realize that happiness, for me, is usually predicated on feeling engaged with the world and thereby interested in outcomes. This may not actually be true, but sometimes plausibility and convenience in the right proportions is better than truth.

Academic systems, at least in the limit of platonic idealism, are all about being engaged with the world, insofar as exploring it makes you feel like you’re more a part of it. Travel is similar. So are urban exploration and reading books and the process of growing up.

This year, for the first time, it all seems incredibly hard. Increasingly often in the past few weeks, I find myself having to make an effort to feel like I’m adding something to the world and vice versa. A stronger and scarier form of this feeling is stagnation.

So, yesterday, I decided to start consciously keeping track of things that make me feel engaged with the world, even if they only work for a moment or two. Hitting the submit button on a blog post is one of them; another is thoughtfully-placed punctuation that ever-so-slightly tilts the tone of a sentence. Yet another: grasping another small morsel of German conjugation.

Re: the sibling topic of optimizing for long-term fulfillment: It seems increasingly debatable to me whether this is all folklore and guesswork outside of well-established health practices (ex: not smoking cigarettes).