This is what my research showed me:
1) Peoples’ expectations regarding happiness are often distorted. We won’t have a life of non-stop happiness. When throughout the history of mankind did people live a blissful life? Were your grandparents or parents blissfully happy? Probably not. Regardless of circumstances most people have good days and bad.
Even people who live in horrendous conditions can have good days; it’s just that their good days would be deplorable to most of us. The fact is the benchmark for happiness is relative. If you’ve watched networks like National Geographic you’ve seen some terrible living conditions around the world yet I’m sure you’ve also seen a lot of happy people in these places.
How can this be? If most people say their primary goal in life is to be happy, why are so many people living in poverty happier than so many Americans who based on lifestyles, are much better off than them? It’s clear to see that it’s not what we have but how much we appreciate and respect what we have. This is part of the happiness sweet spot.
2) People often haven’t figured out what truly makes them happy and because of this they can’t appreciate it when they’re experiencing it. For example, does having the ability to stay on top of your bills make you happy? If so then have a positive mindset and appreciation that you can because not everyone has this ability.
Have you ever been through a time in your life where you were figuring out which bills you could and couldn’t afford to pay? Have you ever floated checks and hoped for the best as to your timing because the last thing you needed was for a check to bounce and the bank hit you with fees? Talk about negatively affecting one’s happiness.
If something could negatively impact our happiness if we had to go through it, shouldn’t it help our happiness when we don’t have this problem? Shouldn't we appreciate when obstacles aren't in our lives? Seems like this is a fair standard to apply to how we live our lives. The words: “Count your blessings” were written thousands of years ago and is still one of the secrets to happiness.
3) We tend to look down the road for our happiness instead of figuring out how to experience it here and now. Happiness does exist down the road but I can also tell you that unhappiness exist there as well. It certainly is worthwhile having goals to motivate us towards positive actions but to think that achieving most goals will provide us with sustained happiness isn’t realistic. I don’t care who you are, thousands of years of research is very clear that most people become de-synthetized to their surroundings and begin taking it for granted.
Do you think if you owned a home on the beach that you’d appreciate the views every day? It won’t happen. You’ll start realizing that you’ve gone days without really looking out and enjoying the view. In the beginning you’d probably tell yourself you’ll take walks on the beach every day and enjoy the sights and sounds but this too won’t happen.
I know you think you’d be different but the odds are you wouldn’t. Everyone goes in with good intentions on counting their blessings for having a house on the beach but then a part of our human nature kicks in and it is this: “Everything loses its luster.” The fact is if we look down the road and think that accomplishing certain things will be the end-all to our happiness, it won’t.
4) Throughout the history of mankind, people worked to make a living. Along with a lot of things that started in the 60’s there became a bigger push for self-fulfillment. It became more important to find yourself in your work which made the situation even worse for most people because work is work. The bar was raised on what we should expect out of work and it let a lot of people down.
The last job I had before retiring was the first one that really had me loving the work I did. Not that I loved it daily but more times than naught, it was enjoyable. I never had a job before where I was able to analyze so much data and find stories hidden in the information then share the insight with others. I didn’t know I loved algorithms, data-mining, and using Excel and PowerPoint. Do you know why I was able to stay working there until I retired…because it paid the bills. It wouldn’t have mattered if I enjoyed the work if it couldn’t meet my financial needs.
A lot of young people have been misled about what work is all about. It doesn’t matter how great a job is if it doesn’t pay the bills first and foremost. I guarantee you the stress of trying to hide from companies or people you owe money to would not make having a fun job worth it. Personal fulfillment in our work is nice but far from necessary and certainly doesn’t guarantee us happiness. Keeping our lifestyles afloat with as little stress as possible is what can really make a positive difference towards experiencing happiness more frequently.
5) People tend to believe they’re missing out on something, that other peoples’ lives are so much better. Out of the various spectrums of demographics, no one group has the monopoly on joy and happiness. Just look at the entertainment world and you’ll see people who achieved their dreams yet didn’t find the happiness they desired. The area in and around Hollywood has more alcohol and drug rehab facilities and psychiatrists per capita than any place else in the country. This is very insightful.
If we look at other people and think they’ve got it made and begin wishing we had what they had, then in most cases we’re allowing ourselves to be fooled. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Most people have a great poker face and aren’t going to let the world in on how their lives aren’t perfect.
How often have you gone to a party and met people who said their life sucked? I’m sure it hasn’t happened often or maybe never at all. Why don’t we typically tell people the truth about our lives? Several reasons of course including we don’t want to dump on other people who don’t know us, and most people want others to think they’re living a good life. To say otherwise might reflect negatively on their intelligence. Humans don’t want to look foolish, like we’ve made terrible life choices, because humans have a tremendous need to feel respected.
The bottom line is we won’t enjoy life like we should if we spend it envying other people. We don’t even know what we’re envying beyond the perception we have of other peoples’ lives. When it comes to this issue there are guilty people all along the economic ladder. Those below us wish they had what we have and of course we’re looking up envying those above.
For most people this mindset never stops. It sounds bad, but most people are greedy considering the definition for this word. Who decides if there’s a difference between someone doing just fine financially making $50,000 a year but pushing hard to make $100,000 compared to someone who is doing just fine making $100,000 but wanting to get a promotion and make $130,000? Who decides who is greedier? There could be an argument that the person making $50,000 is greedier because he wants a 100% increase ($50,000), from what he’s making now whereas the other person wants a 30% increase ($30,000). Of course, I’m not qualified to make the distinction. The definition for “greed” requires you know someone’s heart so it’s a word I have a tough time understanding.
The fact is greed (desire for more), has made our country one of the most prosperous economies in the world. Most Americans push themselves towards a better life especially since unlike a lot of other countries, it’s attainable here. We strive to make more money and we typically spend it on goods and services, which means even more people benefit from our so-called greed.
6. Countless studies report that people who have some form of a religious faith are happier than people who don’t. Atheists hate to hear this but it’s difficult for them to counter the numerous studies. The question boils down to why people who are believers live a happier existence comparatively speaking to those without a faith life?
There’s peace in knowing that at least someone (God), has a master plan whatever it is. Don’t you feel better with the thought that someone at the top of your company has a plan (at least you hope so), because it makes you feel more secure. Most of us are just fine not knowing what the plan is we just take comfort in knowing there is one.
People who are believers also have the psychological benefit of knowing even though we’re screwed up in numerous ways, God loves us anyway. Some people get eaten alive trying to live up to various standards real and perceived based on their life’s journey. They often beat themselves up for not being good enough. As a believer you understand that the ultimate judge already thinks you’re good enough. Unconditional love is a very beautiful thing which also brings about a lot of peace.
As a believer I also find peace in knowing no matter how dreadful things get, I’m just passing through to a better place. It feels good knowing there’s truly light at the end of the tunnel something non-believers don’t expect.
7) Life is cyclic, but some people manage their lives based on where they’re at the time versus hanging in there until things turn around before making any major life decisions. I’ve seen plenty of people through the years quit their jobs when things were going rough only to regret it later.
People tend to get tunnel-vision when times are difficult. Plenty of people have gotten divorces only to wish later that they hadn’t. Most marriages certainly have good days but there are also plenty of horrendous days where both partners probably question why they’re there. But for most people if they hang in there, the ride has way more good than bad. Keep in mind, I'm not saying that divorce isn't sometimes the key to experiencing greater happiness, I'm just saying to be careful about making such serious decisions when you might be at your worst mentally.
8) People who are control oriented have a more challenging time being happy. Control is an illusion. There are so many more variables than there were a few decades ago and if you’re a parent, it’s crazy. My company had a mantra of: “Control the controllables.” Meaning let’s try to make a positive difference towards things we can actually change and do our best not to stress ourselves out over things we couldn’t control.
The interesting this is so many of the other issues that we couldn’t control seemed to work themselves out. Humans have a tendency to think things are worse or going to be worse, than they are. Like Mark Twain once said: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” I think this is both funny and profound.
9) Sometimes nothing seems to help because of depression. People who don’t understand the disease tend to think you should suck it up and just get going. The problem is in the way some peoples’ brains function. Their brains are misfiring and medication is needed to correct it.
People who have clinical depression can’t fake it until they make it. My recommendation if you just can’t seem to overcome a feeling of dread, is that you see a psychiatrist. You might be one medication away from a light switch being flipped and you almost immediately begin feeling better.
I certainly didn’t cover all things which can lead to a happier life but there’s plenty of information posted here that can make a tremendous difference. The great news is that it isn’t something we need to find. It isn’t something out of reach. The key to happiness is found within in the way we choose to look at life. As Zig Ziglar often said, we need to get rid of the “stinking thinking” and a whole new beautiful world that was already there, can finally be seen.