It arrives with fanfare and promise and before we can truly appreciate what we are experiencing, it vanishes. Sometimes never to be seen again.
We need to grab it! To hold on! But it remains elusive.
So we seek out new ways of finding it. We become alchemists – looking to perfect the formula and turn our base metals into gold. If we did it once, we think; then we can do it again… surely?
But alas it’s not to be.
Try as we might, happiness lives on its own terms. It appears when it wants to appear. We can’t decide when to have it; that would be too easy.
It chooses when to present itself in our lives. All we can do is hope to appreciate it when it arrives.
1. Studies have shown that nothing really changes
In 1978 a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology had researchers interview three different groups of people; Illinois state lottery winners, non-winners and people who had suffered horrific accidents that either left them paraplegic or quadriplegic.
The findings were quite remarkable; the lottery winners were obviously ecstatic immediately following their win, but it seems as though their happiness levels dropped within a few months to their former ‘pre-winning’ state. The study also showed that these winners, although not being significantly happier than non-winners, took less pleasure from ordinary mundane events.
The accident group were only slightly less happy than the other two groups so the whole study seems to indicate that we all have a baseline happiness level and significant changes to our life situation only has a temporary effect on our state of mind.
There are a number of major life changing events that we continually dream about. Winning the lottery, getting married, having a baby, travelling the world and even buying that luxury materialist item that forever remains on our wish list. They will all invoke a sudden change in our levels of happiness but given enough time, everything will revert back to what it used to be.
Think back to your happiest memory, regardless of how significant. Are you still riding that wave or does everything feel… normal again? I’m willing to bet that life feels the same as it always has. This is because nothing can change the person you are on the inside. External factors will only have a temporary effect on one’s mentality – real change has to come from within.
If you are depressed before a lottery win then once the initial euphoria has died down you will inevitably just become a depressed person with a sexy bank balance. Money cannot reverse a lifetime of negative thinking, just as it cannot cure an illness.
The main factors in our lives such as our parents, friends and past experiences will still remain true no matter what happens to us. They shape who we are in the present and they will continue to have an effect on us in the future.
The trick is to not expect a future event to have lasting changes on your happiness levels. Enjoy them for what they are and strive to have as many of these as possible but be careful not to pin all of your hopes on the idea that a future event will cure your unhappiness.
It will do – but only temporarily.
2. We will always be more interested in pleasing others over ourselves
Generally speaking, most people don’t care how much money they have as long as they have more money than everyone else. This goes for any measurably indicator of success such as the size of your house or the type of car that you drive.
The phrase ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ describes the comparison to one’s neighbour as a benchmark to social class and the accumulation of material goods. Failing to ‘keep up’ would indicate possible socio-economic or cultural inferiority.
Sure you would feel like a big shot if you had a million dollars in the bank and the biggest house in your street but if you upped sticks and moved into an area with other millionaires how would you feel then?
Technically nothing has changed. You still have a big house and more money than you know what to do with but if your neighbours are richer than you it could leave you feeling a little deflated.
An experiment conducted by Prof Christian Elger and Prof Armin Falk at the University of Bonn dug a little deeper into this phenomenon. 38 men were paired up and pitted against each other in a dot counting game. Successfully counting the correct number of dots resulted in a monetary reward but while the men would show obvious delight at receiving the money, discovering that their rival received more money actually devalued their perceived success.
It became evident that they didn’t care how much money they received as long as it was more than the other person.
How crazy is that?
If we look at this another way; are you living your life trying to please everyone around you?
If you are making decisions in an attempt to fit in or conform to what is expected of you then there will never be happiness in your future. You will be sacrificing your integrity towards a fruitless endeavour that has no end game.
The famous quote, “You can please all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time.” describes this perfectly.
Focus on your own goals, ignore what everyone else thinks and only carry those along for the ride who are interested in buying your ticket.
If you have to leave some people behind then maybe it’s because they have already arrived at their destination…
3. You will always want more
I used to be very skinny. I remember looking through bodybuilding magazines as a kid, wishing I could one day grow up as big and strong as those guys. My idols were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean Claude Van Damme and that guy from the American Ninja movies who wasn’t very big, but he still kicked ass.
Michael Dudikoff? What a hero!
I hated being smaller than everyone else.
Throughout school I was kicked and punched by the bigger kids. I only escaped having my lunch money stolen because I was poor and had to use those crappy school meal tickets. Of course I would learn to fight back – I was a human ‘Scrappy Doo’, straining at the leash with a cry of ‘let me at ‘em’.
But I was still a wimp – a scrawny 140lbs of skin, bone and a thousand tears.
I hated feeling like this so I made a decision in college to join a gym and to start working out. I was good at fighting back but being picked on was mentally draining. If I worked out then maybe people would start respecting me? It kinda worked – I felt like Superman!
But I didn’t realise that these superpowers would slowly diminish.
Take a look at these pictures.
At 16 years of age – I wanted to get bigger
At 30 years of age – I still wanted to get bigger
It’s crazy isn’t it? Even though I have added 40lbs to my skinny ass frame, I am not satisfied and I often feel smaller than everyone else in my gym.
I often thought that this was due to a lack of confidence or maybe an inferiority complex of some kind but I now realise that given enough time, our brain just accepts our current reality as perfectly normal. I will always want to get bigger – it’s just the way it is.
My kryptonite is my own mind.
This manifests itself in other ways too.
An entrepreneur will never be satisfied with their current success. They may have started with absolutely nothing but even though they now have a bank balance beyond their wildest dreams, they will always want more. It’s like a drug; a never ending quest to close another deal or to cash another cheque.
Tony Robbins – all round motivational guru; has actually admitted that money is pretty meaningless to him now. He obviously still values it, but because he so successful, nothing will ever match the feeling he had when he first started earning big bucks. He now sees income as a type of game; an end of level boss that he has to defeat to move forwards. Once this has been achieved he then thinks ‘Ok great, what’s next?’
This video, at roughly the 10 minute mark, shows where he talks about being hit with the news his company just hit $400 million on the stock exchange. To him it was just a ‘meh, ok’ moment.
Frank Kern, who is also in that video, tells the story that his initial goal was to earn $300 dollars a week. Not millions, but a measly $300 dollars because to him at that time, that was success. His first product earned him $2500 in just 5 days – this felt better than anything that would follow.
John Reese explains how he used to work at a video store with a boss who would try to crush his dream of one day owning a Porsche. His goal was to sometime in the future drive up to that same video store in his very own Porsche and drop off a video for his boss to put back on the shelf.
Can you imagine how satisfying that would be? It actually happened. He goes on to say that was one of the best days of his life. Not the time he broke records by becoming the first internet marketer to earn $1 million dollars in a single day, but that simple ‘fuck you’ to the guy who dared to crush his dreams.
Barring depression, being that rich will obviously give you a great outlook on life but the further you travel from the person you used to be, the less impact your future successes will have.
The virgin who has sex for the first time will be infinitely happier than the guy who just notched his 100th lay.
The graduate who lands their dream job will always remember that day more than the day they became CEO.
The musician who signs their first record contract will cherish that moment more than hitting number one in the charts, which in turn will be more cherished than their 10th hit single.
It’s the law of diminishing returns. Every goal that we hit simply gets replaced with another goal, but this next goal will give us a little less satisfaction than the one before, a never ending quest for an emotion that will always remain slightly out of reach.
We’re all addicts looking for the next hit.
Our drug is happiness.
What does happiness mean to you? Do you feel happy in your life or are do you feel like it constantly eludes you? Let me know in the comments!
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