So, you think you’re happy enough?
You think you’re happy enough, don’t you? You could be anywhere on earth right now, and still you’ll be thinking the same.
Well, it’s a stretch to include all of humanity, but you get the point how pervasive that belief is: Since people analyze they’re not particularly sad, so it automatically means they’re happy enough.
In fact, in happiness surveys, over 80% of people rate their overall life satisfaction as “pretty to very happy”. Also, 80% rate their current mood as positive.
The Homeless Happiness Study: A groundbreaking discovery was made in 2005 by psychologist Robert Biswas-Diener while working with pavement dwellers in Calcutta (India), shelterless people in California (USA), and homeless people living in a tent camp in Portland, Oregon (USA): Even when they were not satisfied with their lives or their material circumstances, the homeless people were very satisfied with themselves (including their looks and intelligence).
So, almost everyone thinks they’re happy enough. Even a homeless guy can vouch for that. Could they or you be wrong?
Can You Be Happier?
Next up: “Do you think you’re as much happy as you’re capable of?” Give it a a few moments of thought: “Are you as happy as you can be?”
When asked, most answer this with, “No. I think I can be happier.”
Once you shift your stance from ‘happy-enough’ to a more realistic ‘can-be-happier’, it is time to dive in deeper.
At this point, ask yourself: “Why am I not as happy as I can be?”
In reply, you’ll mostly probably hear yourself saying a variation of these:“I’ve got things to do”, “I’ve lots left to take care of”, or “I’ll be completely happy when I’ve successfully achieved all my goals!”
That is it. You’ll be as happy as you can be once you’ve successfully achieved all the personal goals, the work-related goals, the relationship goals, and perhaps many other unsaid and unplanned ‘expectation-goals.’
So, this is what it comes down to — people tend to attach their happiness to things they lack now and believe they will be happy when they have those.
Happiness And Success
The idea of happiness that most people carry is this — that success, achievements, and acquisitions need to happen before happiness arrives. More the successes, more the happiness. Less the successes, less the happiness. Simple.
But it’s not that simple, and not what common thinking tells us. What the science has found over the last 18 years is that we might have got it all wrong.
First, happiness comes before success.
Look at this infographic from Dr Emma Seppala’s book The Happiness Track:
Second, happiness that is linked to success doesn’t last long.
Happiness is a fidgety fly — it’s here one moment, then gone the next. Click To Tweet
So, even after you’ve achieved all that you wanted, you can never be sure that your happiness is complete — or that you’ll never be unhappy again. Happiness is a fidgety fly — it’s here one moment, then gone the next.
The truth is, you’ll be unhappy again.
First you’ll be less happy, and then those successes will stop giving you any more pleasure. A success that put you up on seventh heaven when it came by may eventually become a cold trophy that just sits on your mantel.
Why Do You Keep Getting Unhappy?
Because of a phenomenon of the human mind called ‘hedonic adaptation’, or its common synonym — hedonic treadmill. According to this, there’s a tendency of humans to quickly return to our base levels of happiness despite major uplifting or upsetting life events. We get used to our successes sooner than we expect. And even though the success remains, the joy wanes.
When great things happen in our lives, we feel upbeat emotions — excitement, joy, relief, pride, and exuberant bursts of happiness. These feelings are natural and needed for our well-being. Why? Because who would always want to socialize with someone who never feels happiness? And if we don’t socialize, we don’t grow much as a civilization or even as an individual.
But the problem is, as we all have experienced, these happiness surges don’t usually last too long. The thrill of that brand new success — of a new job or a new relationship — sooner or later, gives way to the stresses and distresses of handling the aftermath of bundled complexities.
One famous study showed that after their initial euphoria, jackpot winners were not much happier than those who didn’t win, one and a half years later. Another study showed that people who suffered horrible accidents and ended up in wheelchairs, eventually overcame their tragedy and learnt to laugh again. So, joyous happenings and profound tragedies eventually give way to settling us down to our base levels of happiness.
Commonly, this tendency to return to our base levels of happiness has been seen to occur after unexpected promotions, great career windfalls, and even after marriage. With the happening of each such event, we always expected that the happiness will last forever — but it didn’t.
For the skeptics, it might be something to chew on when you get to know that psychologists have found that the happiness upsurge of a marriage lasts 2 years for most. Beyond that, it’s business as usual.
Can We Make Happiness Last?
In one word, one straightforward word, “No.”
But why? Because we evolved that way.
If we were to dwell on our happiness indefinitely, then we wouldn’t be caring much for anything else, as any oncoming dangers as predators, earthquakes, or famines. We wouldn’t be much worried about saving our species for the future. And without doing that, we wouldn’t be the only ones on this planet who can study their own brains.
So, How To Be Really Happy Enough?
- It’s this: Create a series of happy events. Yes, create. Because happiness is more a result of our actions than serendipitous events.
- And it’s this: Live the moment with awareness, curiosity, and openness. If it’s your mom you’re talking to, then be there with her with your whole being.
- And this, of course: Share your happiness. Share others’ happiness. You will be surprised to know that your happiness has somehow made your friend’s mother’s sister happy. Because happiness is transmitted up to three levels of a relationship.
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[Originally appeared on Medium, written by the same author Sandip Roy]
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