The Hamburger Model by Dr Tal Ben-Shahar

I started to read Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar’s Book Can you learn to be happy? Happier.

It’s very interesting to see Tal’s Hamburger Model, which is a metric that represents four distinct archetypes of attitudes and behaviours to life.

(image from https://j5minsbreak.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/39ed7-hamburger.jpg)

The tasteless vegetarian burgers made with the most healthful ingredients, which would afford future benefit and present detriment. It is the Rat Race archetype. The rat racers suffers subordinate the present to the future. It has a ground that benefits in anticipation of some future reward. No pain, no gain. (p.14)

The tasty junk-food burger yields present benefit and future detriment. It is the Hedonism archetype.

Hedonists live by the maxim “seek pleasure and avoid pain”; they focus on enjoying the present while ignoring the potential negative consequence of their actions. It  has the ground that live for the moment, and give little or no thought to future consequences and plans. (p.14)

The worst of all possible burgers is both tasteless and unhealthy. It is the Nihilism archetype. The Nihilist has lost the lust for life, neither enjoys the moment nor has a sense of future purpose. It has the ground that hopelessness. (p.15)

The burgers are tasty and healthy, which constitute a complete experience with both present and future benefit. It is the Happiness archetype. Happy people live secure in the knowledge that the activities that bring them enjoyment in the present will also lead to a fulfilling future. It has the ground that true happiness is achieved when there is a perfect balance between present pleasure and future benefits. (p.15)

The Rat Racer’s illusion is that reaching some future destination will bring him lasting happiness; he does not recognize the significance of the journey. The hedonist’s illusion is that only the journey is important. The Nihilist, having given up on both the destination and the journey, is disillusioned with life. The rat racer becomes a slave to the future; the hedonist, a slave to the moment; the nihilist, a slave to the past. (pp.26-27)

To varying degrees, and in different combinations, we all have characteristics of the rat racer, the hedonist, the nihilist, and the one who is happy. Tal suggested readers to do exercises, to write done our own experience of each. One day one archetype. Think about what it feels like and what we have paid for it. Do this exercise regularly like every three months, yearly or the timespan that you like.

I am a Rat Racer without doubt. This is mostly relevant to my education (home, school and social culture) since a young age. Normally if I felt very unpleasant from my heart when I was on the way toward my goal, I sought a change. It’s the ”what/where to change to” that bothered me the most. I couldn’t really think good examples of my experience of being Hedonist or Nihilist. The experience was temporary and soon I came back to the Rat Race domain. I misunderstood ‘Hedonism’ and thought they are the happiest people as they enjoy the present all the time. I suppose it’s why I started to question myself more after I came to the UK. Do I really feel happier? Life is too short, so am I doing the meaningful things I real want to?

I think the answer to my questions about myself to some extent is in Tal’s explanation below. It has shed light on my understanding what attitudes and behaviours to life are and what are the differences.

“Once we arrive at our destination, once we attain our goal, we mistake the relief that we feel for happiness. The weightier the burden we carried on our journey, the more powerful and pleasant is our experience of relief. When we mistake these moments of relief for happiness, we reinforce the illusion that simply reaching goals will make us happy. While these certainly is value in relief – it is a pleasant experience and it is real – it should not be mistaken for happiness.” (p.19)

What can I do about it if I’m a rat racer and want to become happier, or say not sacrifice current pleasure? Here some things I can do:

  1. Identify what you really really want to do from the list of what you can do and establish meaningful goals. Ensure what you are aiming for in life will be fulfilling.
  2. Enjoy the journey.
  3. If now, you are doing something that you don’t enjoy or are working towards a goal that you don’t think is fulfilling, find a way to change this.
  4. Understand that it is impossible for you to feel happy and fulfilled all the time.The point, however, is to spend as much time as possible engaged in activities that give us both present and future benefits.
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