SHOW ME YOUR HAPPINESS-GOAL AND I WILL TELL YOU WHAT TO EXPECT.
I have continued to fibble with an happiness hypothesis I formed from several penetrating reads I had earlier in the year.
Hypothesis: Our lives are replete with a plethora of illusions about what will make us happy, that we continue to remain – almost – static (happiness-wise) no matter our accomplishments.
To test my hypothesis, I ran several retrospective study on myself, however, to convince myself of an absence of bias, I decided to run a simple experiment on my friend.
We are now graduate students in the United States, but we had our undergraduate degrees from Nigeria. (This means we read with a lot of candles, courtesy – an epileptic power supply) I would think that the amount of candles I bought (to read) in my undergrad would probably be enough to build a Polish Gothic castle. (If bricks are made up of Paraffin) haha!
An epidemic happiness-goal then was – “only if I can get to the ‘western world’ where the ‘light’ doesn’t blink”
Back to my experiment – I asked him a simply question.
Me: “Have you ever felt happier as a result of the uninterrupted power supply in the US?”
Friend: (with an obvious hesitation) Uhmmmm…. Nope
Me: Nope? You really mean no? With all these lights?!
This is the dilemma we find ourselves, and it applies squarely to a wide variety of things from your dream car to your dream house.
The idea that solves this puzzle is the focusing illusion (Attributed to the great Psychologist, Daniel Kahneman et al). Our inapt assessment of future happiness is caused by the difference between the act of thinking about attaining a goal/condition; and living in that condition.
In the earlier example, when we think about uninterrupted power supply, we focus on this specific life condition ignoring everything else. As such exaggerating its importance. However, the mismatch comes in here for us – it is impossible to think of uninterrupted power supply all the time, especially when we have tons of experiments to complete, papers to write, seminars and classes to attend, and the list goes on.
In fact, research has shown that the actual happiness (after an accomplishment) falls short of expected happiness (before the accomplishment) by approximately two-third! And for a very wide range of accomplishments, the goal induced-happiness will disappear completely over time.
A simple happiness rule I will posit then is: it will make you happy, if you think about it for a considerable amount of time in your day.
Unfortunately, no one thinks of a car all day long, unless it’s broken.
This rule provides a strong logical reason for why our relationships are the greatest determinants of our happiness. Because we are in constant relationship with people, it’s impossible for the implications of our relationship to not fill up our thoughts. And if it’s a relationship that steeps us in a state of fear, anxiety, jealousy, or hatred.
Then, it might be time to design a *real happiness goal.