Ironically the common quest for perpetual happiness can lead to discontent. Image courtesy of Marin at freedigitalphotos.net
Strangely enough the quest for happiness can in itself, make us unhappy. Recently, I learned about a study in my Psychology course. It was comparing the happiness of people who had recently won the lottery to ‘controls’ (control being a term for basically other folk who haven’t won the lottery). About one week later, lottery wins were not significantly happier than people who had not been blessed with such fortune!
Even more amazingly, people who were tragically rendered quadriplegic were only depressed for a shorter period of time than would be expected. Several years later, ‘controls’, lottery winners and quadraplegics were not significantly different in their level of satisfaction and happiness in our lives.
What we learned, is that we have an ‘immune-like buffer’ system for our emotions, such that we don’t stay at the extremes of mood for very long, but rather a moderate, zen-like state in less time than we would think.
What happened was that, after winning the lottery, these lucky folk found it hard to find other events make them feel even better.
So what has been shown through scientific research (learned in PSYC 3122 at uni), is that interaction with living beings brings us the most happiness, long-term.
Short-term, sugar, television, sex can bring pleasure. Moderate-term, exercise can help. But long-term, gardening, owning a pet, volunteering in a meaningful way and interaction with significant others bring us the most satisfaction.
When we aim for happiness, it is like we turn on an inner questioner “am I happy?” and “am I still happy?” Nobody is happy all the time. Buthan, one of the poorest nations, has been shown to be the happiest.
The Western world has focussed too much on happiness. Interestingly, pressure to feel happy has been linked to feeling sad.
When we forget the aim for happiness, and live in the moment, and stop asking yourself ‘how you are feeling’, you can accept the coming and going of all emotions. They are all transitory and all need to be accepted. Feeling wonderful nor feeling sad will last for long. Our buffer system keeps us more stable.
What we learned that I found even more interesting, was the finding that wealth was not significantly associated with happiness. If we have the basic means of food, shelter, water, and medical needs, we are not significantly unhappier than if we were Bill Gates!