Sometimes I wonder if my happiness is circumstantial. Did I develop it on my own or was it something I was lucky to have?
I’ve lived long enough and traveled to enough places that I confidently know I have grown up quite privileged. I live in a safe country full of opportunity. I don’t come from a minority background, or a historically oppressed race, my parents are still together, they love me dearly (sometimes a little too much for a 26-year-old), and overall I haven’t had too many emotionally damaging setbacks in my life.
In other words, I’m your typical tall athletic white guy. And at this stage in my life, I’m very happy.
But was my happiness simply given to me? Or did I earn it?
Am I happy with my life because of the uncontrollable circumstances, or is there something else?
Do you know someone like this?
Hypothetically, let’s say you currently have someone in your life who is a very negative person. You know the type. No matter what good happens in their life, they always know how to throw a negative spin on it. When life hands them lemons, they complain about having too many lemons. It’s almost like they are so focused on the world being against them that they end up missing all the good that surrounds them. Chances are, you probably do know at least a few people like this.
Now let’s say, that this person also happens to play the lottery on a regular basis. Without fail, they buy a ticket every single Friday. They know the odds are stacked against them, but deep down they know that if only they got this break, their life would truly be better and they’d be happier.
Well as fate would have it, they won. A big whopping $65 million.
They get one of those obnoxiously large cheques and a news anchor grills them about what they plan to do with the money.
In the first few week’s they go crazy. They buy a big house, a new car, a whole new wardrobe and pretty much anything their heart desires.
But then a few months’ pass by. They keep buying things and spending their money however they like.
A year passes. More of the same.
By this time the high of winning has worn off. They still have a good portion of their money left over and their economic status is well above the average.
But here’s my question to you.
Are they happier now than they were before winning?
“Yeah, of course they’re happier. How could they not be?”
That’s probably what you’re thinking right now. But what if I told you that you could be wrong.
In a 1978 study by Brickman, Coates and Janoff-Bulman, they looked at lottery winners in an attempt to figure out whether winning the lottery would, in fact, have a significant boost in happiness levels. In order to do this, they sampled 22 major lottery winners and 22 controls. What they found was rather intriguing. A year after the study started, when they asked both the winners and the controls how their happiness levels had changed, they found that the winners were only slightly happier than the controls.
How can this be possible?
Well, it has to do with something called Hedonic Adaptation, also known as the Hedonic Treadmill.
This is a theory which suggests that humans have a tendency to quickly return to a stable level of happiness despite both major positive and negative experiences. Events such as winning the lottery or losing a limb in a car accident may seem like life events that would drastically effect our well being. But in the end, we always return to the mean.
The Everyday Lesson
So what does this mean?
Should you avoid seeking our monetary gains or career advancement? Is it pointless to want to be happier?
No of course not.
But it does bring up a very important issue. In the previously mentioned study, there was one finding which I consider to be the most troubling. What they found was that after winning the lottery, the participants were less affected by the “mundane” events. After they have the peak experience of winning the lottery, nothing else really compared.
They were almost incapable of being grateful for the little things.
But is this surprising? Not really
I’ve mentioned this idea before in a previous post, but if we don’t practice when it’s easy, we will never be able to do it when it’s difficult. Or in the case of winning the lottery, if you are negative, always complaining, never taking ownership and always looking for “something” to make your life better – no amount of money will ever make you happy long term.
The Athlete Lesson
So often we get caught up in the future. We start imagining what it will be like to be a starter, to make the national team, to play professionally and to maybe one day go to the Olympics.
We say things to ourselves like “when X happens, then I’ll be happy”.
But will you really be any happier? Are you even happy right now? What about X would make you happy?
If you can’t find a way to be happy with your current circumstances, chances are you won’t be happy in the future, regardless of the positive experiences you encounter.
Only so much of life is actually in your control, yet we sometimes act like certain things should just be handed to us. Deep down we know this isn’t the right mentality and we know it’s only hurting us. I believe we all know what makes us happy, we just have to be willing to find it every single day. Not just when it’s convenient.
It starts with gratitude
I mentioned earlier that I’m happy with my life. But I still can’t confidently say whether or not that is due to uncontrollable circumstance or deliberate action. However, I lean more towards the latter. And personally, I would rather live a life where I know that my happiness is dictated by my own thoughts and actions.
This mentality probably has something to do with my upbringing and the people who surround me, but more recently I think it has to do with something simple that I do every single day.
Every morning I use something called the 5-Minute Journal. It’s a simple one-page journal with 3 questions in the morning and two at night. It only takes a small portion of my time, but it always manages to put me in a good headspace.
You can go out and purchase a 5-minute journal, or every morning, simply answer this question.
What are you grateful for?
Come up with 3 responses. These could be extremely simple things like having clean tap water or the less acknowledged stuff like having parents that pay for all your sports camps.
Taking time out of your day to actually appreciate these things and not take them for granted will create a more positive mindset. Instead of dwelling on the one negative thing that happened 4 days ago, why not be grateful for the 10 amazing things that happened just this morning.
It’s a simple practice, but an effective one. In just a few minutes per day, you can actually change your mood for the entire day. Compared to all the other things we waste time on, the return on investment is significantly higher.
I challenge you to try it out for one week and see what happens.
I have even created a template for you to use which you can get by clicking HERE.
If you expect your reward to bring you constant happiness, you will be disappointed. So instead, find ways to enjoy the process. This little practice is one of them.
I will leave you with the words of my 4th favourite female pop singer, Miley Cyrus.
“It ain’t about how fast I get there. Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb”