To improve your happiness you can try intervening at three different levels.

Level 0: Change your external environment.

Examples: switching jobs, moving closer to your work to have a shorter commute, traveling more, breaking up with your partner.

Dangers: Consumerism and workaholism both take this approach. Just buy the next product or achieve your next accomplishment. Then you’ll be happy.

Level 1: Change your evaluation of your environment.

Level 1 is closest to what we normally think of when we think about emotions. Intervening involves generating positive emotions or curbing negative ones. This is often accomplished by being happy for what you have, rather than disappointed about what you don’t have.

Examples:

  • Reframing a negative event, like losing your job, in a positive way: “At least now I get to pursue what I really wanted!”

  • Writing down three things you’re grateful for everyday to focus more on the positive aspects of your environment.

Dangers: Wireheading

Level 2: Change your evaluation of your Level 1 evaluations.

Level 2 is evaluation of your emotions (Level 1). Intervening involves changing how you evaluate your own emotional state.

I recently had these thoughts: “I don’t feel as happy as I was before. Is that bad?” But it wasn’t anything in my external environment (which is great!). I was evaluating my own emotional reactions (Level 1), rather than my environment itself. 

You could be the person with a 2016 BMW, who feels disappointed because they don’t have a 2017 BMW. Similarly, you could be the person who is at a score of 90/100 on Level 1, but disappointed because you’re not at a score of 99/100. I eventually began believing that having an unsatisfiable Level 2 evaluation is just as naive as an unsatisfiable Level 1 evaluation. I stopped asking so much from my Level 1, and then felt much better.

Dangers: Wireheading



Most philosophies about happiness are only aimed at one level*, but all levels are useful in different contexts, so don’t focus on just one.

[*] Anything involving intervening in your external environment is Level 0. Consumerism and workaholism are negative examples of Level 0 philosophies. Most positive psychology methods are Level 1. Biological methods (antidepressants) are Level 1. Buddhism is Level 2.