January 3, 2014

The Happiness Meter

Ever realize that no matter how hard you strive for happiness, it almost always seems just as elusive. 

There are many explanations for this:

Of course, it could also be that just because you think something will make you happy, doesn't mean it will. Often, the fantasy does not live up to the reality, and so rather than achieve happiness, we end up disappointed. 

Another explanation, from economics, is the law of diminishing marginal utility that tells us that more of a good thing, does not make us incrementally happier, rather the benefit and satisfaction that we receive from each additional unit of consumption is lower.  Let's face it, the 5th mouthful of chocolate cream pie is not as satisfying at the first, second, or third. And at a certain point, you actually will want to puke! 

The Wall Street Journal had a brilliant piece on this that explained this from an evolutionary perspective--fitter organisms are more likely to survive and reproduce, so every time we make a positive decision in our life, rather than find happiness, our "happiness meter" resets to zero, forcing us to make the next positive move in our life to make us better, if not necessarily happier. In other words, keeping us unhappy, forces us into perpetual striving. 

So while happiness has been correlated with our genetic makeup, life events, and values (New York Times) or even exercise, altruism, and supportive relationships (CNN), real happiness comes from living a life of meaning, where we find satisfaction in the journey itself, and not rely only on the destination. 

For example, Buddhists understand that life is suffering and that we need to escape the hamster wheel of jealousy, aimless external desire, and quenchless ambition and instead seek to do good and find inner contentment. 

One colleague (ex-army) of mine used to say, "everyday that I am not in Iraq and Afghanistan is a good day" and perhaps we need to think in those terms too, as we all know things can always be worse, so we would do well to find happiness not just in what we have or achieve, but in thanksgiving for what we are spared as well.  ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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