Happiness…Elusive or Right Under Your Nose?

September 2023

By Mike Shaw, Founder, Initiative for Performance Optimization & Self-Empowerment (iPOSE)

 

Are you happy? For some, this is a very complex question. Is the question asking if you are happy right now, at this very moment, or are you generally happy, like is happiness your default mental state? Is your happiness something you consciously think about or recognize? Many confuse being happy with being satisfied. This distinction must be made because, from the time we are young, we are trained never to be satisfied. It is drilled into us that satisfaction equals complacency. Don’t be satisfied with a B on your exam. Study harder and get an A. It’s not good enough to win the game; you should strive for a shutout. We are always looking to better ourselves, so we learn that satisfaction is elusive at best and an obstacle impeding our path to reaching our full potential at worst. The fact is, both can be true. You can be happy that you earned a B on the exam and use that positive energy to strive for an A next time. You can revel in the moment after achieving victory and still strive for dominance in the future. Happiness is not synonymous with satisfaction.

Another twist on this comes from tying our happiness to a future event. We think we’ll be happy when we buy the new car or house we’ve been wanting or when we get the promotion we’ve been seeking. Yes, we may experience an increased level of happiness at these times, but the euphoria is most often far less powerful than we anticipated. This impact bias, or overestimation of the impact of an emotional event, sets us up for disappointment when our natural inclination to quickly adapt to new situations takes over, and we accept our achievement as the new normal.

Our goal is to be cognisant of enjoying the present moment instead of tying our happiness to specific conditions to be met in the future. Simply put, don’t postpone happiness for a future circumstance that is somewhat beyond your control. Impact bias and faulty affective forecasting rarely combine to yield a positive result. We are better served deriving happiness from individual moments as we experience and remember them. Visualizing happiness as a way of life can lead us to the false perspective that happiness is something to be chased instead of experienced. This can lead to a grass is always greener on the other side of the fence effect. “If I had more money, I’d be happy.” “If I was in a relationship, I’d be happier.”

Now that we have identified impact bias and the perils of faulty affective forecasting, how do we train ourselves to relish the happiness of the moment?

Start by making a list of things you think will make you happy in the future.

  • Buying a nicer car
  • Buying your own home
  • Saving enough money
  • Getting married

Now, make a list of moments or events from your past that made you happy.

  • Your child’s first words
  • Dancing with your partner
  • Getting your driver’s license
  • Hanging a piece of art in your home

When you reflect upon the past events in your life that brought you happiness and then upon your list of future events that you believe will make you happy, how do they compare? Are they aligned, or can you conclude that your real sources of happiness are random and unpredictable? Finally, ask yourself if, during the moments you’re reflecting on as happy, you actually allowed yourself to relish that happiness. Identifying the sources of your happiness and reflecting upon past happy moments will empower you to recognize future moments of happiness as they occur.

I will leave you with a real life example of predicting vs recognizing happiness:

“If my article gets published and helps people, I will finally be happy.”

“I am happy right now because I finished writing this article. I feel accomplished in my effort to share strategies that will empower others.”

 


 

Michael Shaw founded The Mastery Mindset and iPOSE, Immersive Performance Optimization and Self-Empowerment. Michael specializes in improving his clients’ quality of life through Guided Introspection, Highly Intuitive Language & Listening (HILL), Process Mastery, and superior Fitness and Nutrition Programming. In addition to adults, Michael works with teenagers and young adults to help them build healthy self-images, life skills, and strong bodies.

To inquire about working with Michael, please contact him at mikeshaw.iPOSE@gmail.com.

Photo credit: m-gucci

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