I will be happy when... When?
Updated: Jul 26
Hello fellow Protagonists,
I was sitting in my office waiting for a phone call to find out if I had just bagged a huge promotion at my previous workplace. We are talking double the pay, impressive title and a regional post that allows me to move around the county rather than staring up at windows that are too high to see anything out of. This was an old Edwardian building, filled with cracks and designed back before humanity realised that being able to see the great outdoors helped with morale.
The phone rang.
"Ah OK. No I understand. Well thank you for the opportunity".
"I would have been so happy if I landed that job", I remember telling myself. For the rest of that day I felt deflated. All those thoughts I had began to play in my head on how I would celebrate the good news and if I would treat myself and my now wife to something nice, gone. Then as soon as the evening was coming to a close I already started to feel happier again. The next morning when I woke I was not too far off from my normal self.
Isn't it interesting how we can take a minor set back and sometimes bounce back within days, sometimes in hours or even minutes. This depends on the severity of the situation of course.
What about if we flip the situation around to a positive outcome. What if I was offered the promotion? Would I have been a happier person from then on or would I "bounce back" here as well? Looking back when I have accepted new jobs before... Yes I guess I would have done.
Our happiness level does seem to return to a set baseline and these account for both positive and negative events.
The Hedonic Treadmill is a terminology first used by Michael Eysenck, building on from previous studies in the 70's. The Hedonic Treadmill is the process of reaching a goal to achieve its perceived happiness benefits, like a promotion, to then return to our previous state of happiness where we then search for the next promotion to try and relive that heightened level of happiness once more.
And the cycle continues. It doesn't just end at work either, what about holidays, cars and clothes.
If we all return to a set level of happiness, why do some people appear generally happier than others? A part of us already has a predisposition to see things in either a more optimistic or pessimistic light. The important part here is that there is still plenty of manoeuvrability from these points. A relief here is that generally people seem to have a more positive weighted set baseline.
Happiness is also not based on only one factor. Dan Buettner, an author who focused on Blue Zones (Areas of the world where people live the longest) highlighted happiness coming from the following places: Community, Workplace, Social Life, Financial Life, Home and Self. These will be moving up and down dynamically and so our initial baselines will start from different points depending what else is going on for us when a situation occurs.
Well what about if I won the lottery, surely that would make my life happier? The original research by Brickman and Campbell in the 70's was focused on lottery winners and accident victims who were now paralysed. You are right to assume that at the time of these incidents the lottery winner were a lot happier about life than the victims. That being said, their findings highlighted both of these groups' happiness levels seemed to return towards their neutral level as time progressed. The lottery winners were not as happy anymore, and the victims' happiness increased again.
It might make us start to question why some of us focus on goals we think will make us happy, if we will return to a set baseline eventually anyway.
Think of it this way fellow adventurers; when are you happier, when playing a game and you still have achievements left to unlock, or after you have completed them all? When you have put together and are now delivering the best presentation you ever have, or when you received the praise and the dust has settled? Or how about when you have organised, or are currently enjoying, a coffee or pint with a friend, compared to the same day the following month?
Happiness comes from the process of aiming towards achievements as well as from achievements themselves. We can get a lot of collective happiness from aiming towards these goal rather than just relying for the final outcome. Especially as outcomes are usually out of our control and might not go our way. So if we have a goal set for ourselves that could take years to achieve and everything we focus on that goal brings happiness, then that is some serious bang for your buck!
If Buff folk are consistently focusing on goals that bring us meaning, then our current happiness baseline should be in a better place, to feel happier in general, but to also not feel as negatively impacted on by the harder times in life then we may have done if our happiness baselines started lower.
To help you decide on where meaning can be found, I want to focus more on this in a future post. A great point made from the book "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren, includes that meaning comes from any task that we give our full attention and particularly if we are gifted/skillfull in that task.
And maybe realising the new car will only make us happy for a short while we might end up saving a few bob.
What tasks give you the greatest sense of happiness? What goals to enjoy working towards at any time? Are you willing to ease off of the treadmill?