Why should I be happy?
Happiness is a good predictor of a longer and healthier life. If that doesn’t seem good enough, being happy makes you more productive and efficient in your personal and professional life. People around you benefit as much from your being happy. It’s so important that the Pursuit of Happiness finds a mention in the United States’ Declaration of Independence.
So, why aren’t we naturally happy all the time?
Many reasons actually. Some of us believe that being happy is a surefire route to inviting an unlucky charm work against it. We look at other people around us and constantly compare our levels of happiness with theirs. We hold on to a negative portion of our past because our evolutionary mechanisms make us not forget things that hurt us. We are curious about our future and are constantly imagining it through the negativity of news channels. Bad news sells more than the good and newspapers don’t run on charity. But we don’t consider that.
Do you know Ms. LuckyJane?
Do you know Ms. LuckyJane? Or Mr. LuckyJohn? I would be surprised if you didn’t. It’s your friend, the one that seems genetically predisposed to get the better things in life that you always craved for. Her Facebook posts read like the liturgy for an ideal life – the most expensive vacations, cars, and exotic food with loved ones at plush locales.
Of course it buggers you – you started off as equals in childhood. You did relatively better in college, and while not exactly a magnet, had your fair share of relationships before settling for one that had the most potential. And yet, somewhere down the line, the proverbial tortoise, Ms. LuckyJane beat you to the goal post.
Is your idea of success and happiness relative?
You see a post from a friend that has switched jobs – rumor has it that he will be paid twice than what he did in his previous organization. Discounting the exaggeration factor, you still believe that he got a great deal. You feel cheated at not getting your due. You get up on Saturday and browse the job listings.
You get the job, albeit with a hike much lesser than wished for. You nevertheless post your manufactured happiness on social media for the envy of those that behold. A week into the job your colleague states in passing that your negotiation skills are poor; the HR folks got you easy. And you start to wonder, all over again…
I could tell you that you lead the kind of life most kings a century ago would envy. You don’t face the risk of war, disease, or uncertainty as much as they did. You eat a greater variety of food, have technology to assist you, and have the chance to predict your life in ways they couldn’t have. But you would still be unhappy because your reference is Mr. LuckyJohn, and you are not as lucky as he is.
The reason behind our dissatisfaction and unhappiness is because we are not comparing our success against our personally set benchmarks. We are constantly looking for external validation from people whose ideas of success are very different from ours, and keep changing.
By constantly readjusting our goals and our needs, we set ourselves for a lifelong journey of reward seeking without pausing to enjoy the journey or our accomplishments.
Why the perfect life doesn’t exist, and why that is good
You are born to rich and happy parents; you are a good looking baby and an intelligent and handsome adult; companies crave to recruit you, and you choose the best. You marry the person you love, you provide your children with the same kind of life that you had, and you die in your sleep, content at having lived your life to the fullest.
This kind of life is very rare, if it happens at all. The more likely scenario in the above case is that you would be spoilt for choice as a kid and an adult. The choice, by itself would be confusing and make you unhappy because you wouldn’t ever know if you picked the right option. You would always wonder if your success is because of your parents, and discount your looks to genetics. You die wondering if your whole life was just about you being lucky.
Truth is, most of us will be born under more unfortunate circumstances, will be thrown to unforeseen winds, and will be left making sense of what we have and where to go. And while that sounds depressing, taken at the wind, these situations are what make our lives interesting. The way our life unfolds can best be predicted from our ability to maneuver ourselves from adverse situations, like any hero from any story worth telling.
We can be happy most of the time, if we try
Happiness isn’t a byproduct of something that will be attainable to us in the future, if we tried hard enough. It’s not a permanent object that will suddenly be ours to keep because we got the best job, married the most beautiful person, or have the most amazing kids. The truth is that our brain soon gets used to new situations, however fantastical they may be.
There isn’t much difference in the happiness quotient of a person that won a lottery and the one that was injured in an accident after a period of time. Hedonic adaption, the tendency of human beings to return to a relatively stable level of happiness, holds true for both you and Ms. LuckyJane.
Want to be happy and stay that way? Try these
There’s sound logic behind these suggestions, but let’s not discuss them now. And the order doesn’t matter as long as you get started.
- Write down things that you overcame in life; things that made you feel proud of yourself even if you won no applause for them. Imagine yourself as a celebrity being asked this question, “Tell us your story, Mr. Achiever. Surely your success didn’t come easy?”
- Make a list of people that have helped you and stood by you. Send them a Thank You note.
- Create things using your natural interests. Cooking, gardening, carpentry, and music are some options.
- Invest in your physical fitness. Use bite-sized fitness goals, and maintain a healthy diet regime.
Happiness isn’t instant coffee; you have to work for it, and work a little more to keep it. And why should you believe me? These suggestions are based on expert advice, and research articles on happiness. Following them has made me more content and happy for longer periods of time, and reduced my bouts of ill-temper. At the best, you will reap much more than I have from this advice. At the worst, you will lose nothing. I bet a million on your win right away.