Happiness is fleeting. It teases us with its presence, like a Victorian woman pulling up her bustle to reveal the sexy ankle of shame.
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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So true Jamie. If you think of happiness as a drug, you will always be chasing the “I’ll be happy when” high. That my friend, is NOT happiness. Like any other drug, it’s just a high.
To be truly happy one needs to build self-esteem…lots of it. For me it came from learning to be thankful for every little thing and giving way more than I get.
My first daughter struggled with self-esteem problems for many years. She found hers at 40 with vigorous exercise. She was always a fluffy girl. Everyone said: “you have grandma’s genes.” Now, she manages her health to the extreme (I’d never have the guts to do that) and works out with weights and a punching bag every morning. She’s 102 pounds of dynamite, has more self-esteem than ever and is crazy happy.
We’re all different Jamie but I can assure you it’s getting plenty of self-esteem that will make you truly happy because once you do, you’ll no longer measure success by other peoples standards
Hi Gerry, indeed we have to find the things that we take pleasure in. Happiness may be a forever unattainable goal but the more things we take pleasure in, the greater our self esteem. Your daughter seems to be living with integrity. She is doing the things that she enjoys because she wants to do them, not because she feels she has to. That is surely the goal each of us has to work to.
That’s it. Giving up now!
Happiness is a constant struggle. As weird as that sounds, it really is. You have to always make conscious effort to maintain happiness. Relying on external factors and moods you feel in the moment won’t work forever. It’s short term.
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Go on, give up, may as well..
Ha, only joking.. you’re right there – external factors don’t work because it is so random. You will wake up one day with a smile and the next day with a frown. That’s no way to live life. We should aspire to find peace within and wake up every day content that we know what we are doing and where we are going.
I have a friend I sent this to, he has such a string external focus. He’s never happy in spite of having what others would consider a very comfortable life(he’s retired). The problem is, that he let’s external thing dictate his happiness and we all know that is a recipe for disaster. I you can’t find happiness where ever you are, while working toward making it even better, you’re not going to find it.
Hey David, thanks for sharing my article! You are right that your friend will struggle while continuing to focus on external factors. It’s like holding your hands up and saying ‘hit me with it’. You let go of your control and it will always be a wild ride if that happens!
Jamie – if I look back at the things I wanted to feel when I was younger, it’s pretty much the same now. Security, love, etc.
However, the thing that has changed is this yearning either be happy all the time, or for ‘something else’. When I was younger, it was all about other things making me happy – new clothes, new stuff, compliments.
But now, it’s aaalll about perspective. Feelings of anger, frustration, resentment – they’re all temporary. And so is happiness. It just a chemical reaction in the body. And, as you say, it’s as fleeting as all other emotions.
And I quite like being an addict!
Razwana recently posted..Rants, wasted energy, and THE MOTHER of all lists
Hey! I think we all change our perspectives as we get older. The things that gave us pleasure when we were younger are probably mainly material based, whereas the things that gives us pleasure in the present tend to be things that make use feel happier internally – the important stuff!
First it was a compliment, but that is only temporary. Nowadays it’s more the connection that feels more important – that is lasting. At least for me.
Thanks for your thoughts!
I live a life of pleasantly yielding to my addictions. I know what I am and what I want and I give into these addictions openly. To struggle against what makes us happy is futile. My wife, the guitar, laughter and wit and nature are my drugs. There is no fighting them. Have a wacky one!
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Hola, you seem to have figured out what truly makes you feel wonderful inside. Your drug is feeding something that you hold dear to yourself, there is no resisting. Thanks for dropping by CJ!
This was an excellent post and I agree with your points.
I think this obsession with wanting more that we as humans have is lack of wisdom, where we fall into the trap of believing that gaining more will make us happy, which of course it never does.
Hey thanks! I think we all share a lack of wisdom, in the sense that we are always learning and finding out new things about ourselves.
I tend to find happiness the less I look for it or chase it.
Dan Erickson recently posted..crushed: a life for life
Hey Dan, we are all negotiators. Pull back a little and happiness will stretch to meet us.
Well shit.. and here happiness is not only my only goal in life, but it’s all my parents want and expect of me as well (at least that’s what they say), I wonder how I should break the news… haha.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve never been happy, but of course that’s not true. I am however starting to think that not being content is a human instinct. Discontent fuels progress, if humans easily accepted their surroundings and situation we would not be where we are today.
The kind of happiness you describe is definitely a high that many of us chase, but the feeling of contentment, which could even be described as lasting happiness, is something that I still believe I can achieve at some point. Time might prove me wrong though!
Ragnar recently posted..What The Fuck Am I Supposed To Do With My Life? The Frustration Of Indecision
That’s so true about human development. But one could argue that the kinds of people that chase adrenaline such as skydivers, racing car drivers, people in the military and those who take part in extreme sports were the type people to search beyond the next valley, seek out the next adventure and see what was in the next cave.
Not people seeking happiness, just people looking for excitement.. but I suppose you could lump the two together as one.
They say that once you pass the age of 55 we naturally get happier. Maybe the goal isn’t to seek happiness, but instead to seek old age?
Thanks for your comment Ragnar!
This is about your bullet covering our tendency to please others over ourselves.
I agree with you there.In fact this is one of our big weaknesses.
We are always looking out for others to acknowledge us,our behaviour,our conduct ,our appearance,our mannerisms, our knowledge,our possessions.
It is almost as if having all these ancillary adjuncts of our human life is only meant for finding acceptance and approval.An advanced stage is seeking approval through these,and an even more advanced stage is constantly seeking applause and praise.We are in perpetual search mode,to conform,to fit in.We are unsure of ourselves;therefore we live on borrowed beliefs.We do not even know who these people are; who have set these standards of praise and conformity.
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Hi Mona, it’s crazy isn’t it how much we seek the validation of those who will never know who we are. I wrote a comment on a news site recently and I found myself becoming annoyed that it had been down-voted several times. Why should I care? It’s madness.
Thanks for dropping by.
The pursuit of happiness is indeed bullshit. I think Viktor Frankl put it the best when he said “Happiness can not be pursued, it must ensue.” It’s simply a by product of doing things you enjoy doing on a regular basis.
It’s massively fleeting. Contentment is a bit more obtainable I think, but it’s still a pretty similar concept.
I love that you used the Tony Robbins video. I literally watched that when I was first starting on this journey (June of 2012) and it fueled me to work so freaking hard.
One specific quote resonated with me in there more than anything: “Make it so today is not like yesterday and tomorrow will be different forever.” Powerful.
Kevin Cole recently posted..On Growing Pains, Evolution & Starting Before Your Ready
That quote is excellent! I admit I’m not a fan of Tony Robbins when he is ‘performing’ but when chatting informally like in the video he usually comes up with some great insights. Thanks for your input Kevin!
That video was awesome!
The part about fear is spot on. I’m terrified of knowing what will happen. I’m terrified of having regrets. I’m terrified of feeling like I could’ve done more. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.
I have problems sleeping when I don’t give it my all during the day. That’s a big incentive in itself, just being able to sleep well.
I also liked the part about certainty. People take the first step when they’re certain they will achieve something. There will never be 100% assurance. All there is, is faith in yourself that you will find the way to make it happen.
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That’s right Sebastian, having the belief in ourselves to keep moving forward, even if we have a setback.
As for regrets – they terrify me! But I suppose we need to have some regrets to fuel us towards our next goal. Regret is what makes our fire burn so brightly!