2 Simple Thoughts That Might Change Your Relationship With Happiness

Ah, happiness. The euphoria. The total bliss.

To smile in the presence of friends, to reflect as the sun sets, to sit back and enjoy the day just because. It’s an addictive feeling. It’s the ambition of all human life. If you were to ask most people what they want, it is fair to expect that 90% of the respondents will say something along the lines of “I want to be happy”. But in the words of Abraham Lincoln:

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

Which leads me to two quite radical thoughts that might well (I hope) change your thoughts on happiness.

1. You Feel Happiness Right Now and You Have None of That Stuff

Much of our lives are spent trying to achieve this elusive feeling. We want more and more of it. And understandably so. And we move heaven and Earth trying to work out how we get more of it until we tap into our ability to compare with the world.

Enter social comparison. What a joyous cognitive function. We lean into this cognitive process in order to understand what we must do in order to yield more happiness. We see floods of smiles on Instagram and we click in to find out more. Smiling is the universal sign of happiness and if these folk are smiling, they must be happy, right?

Leon Festinger first described this idea of social comparison back in 1954:

“Social comparison theory is the idea that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others.”- Psychology Today

And that comparison can lead to a few outcomes.

“People who regularly compare themselves to others may find motivation to improve, but may also experience feelings of deep dissatisfaction, guilt, or remorse, and engage in destructive behaviours like lying or disordered eating.” — Psychology Today

So we scroll through their feeds and see that they have fancy cars, big houses and 6-figure business and we conclude that in order to be happier, we need to accumulate more. But then we embark on what is perhaps the most depressing notion in human psychology.

We press start on hedonic treadmill.

Psychology Today describes the hedonic treadmill as the following:

“The hedonic treadmill is the idea that an individual’s level of happiness, after rising or falling in response to positive or negative life events, ultimately tends to move back toward where it was prior to these experiences.”

Without understanding this phenomenon, we chase more. More money, more assets, more friends. As if the accumulation of more ‘stuff’ will make you happy. But, as the hedonic treadmill dictates, your happiness may well fall back into your normal range.

So let’s take a step back. It would be fair to say that you’ve felt happiness in your life so far. Either every few days, few weeks, every few hours, whatever it might be, you will have felt happiness.

This very insight is an important one. The fact that you have felt happiness means that this isn’t a mythical creature you’ve never found before. Something in your life would have lined up just right in order for that smile to wash over your face.

And with the notion of the hedonic treadmill, it leaves in a little bit of an interesting place.

TLDR: You probably have everything you need right now to be as happy as you possibly can be. You just need to change your view.

2. That Happiness Might Not Be As Far Away As You First Thought

It turns out that the things likely to make you most happy are not what we chase. The weird reality is that changing the view is likely to have huge implications on your happiness. My psychology professor once said:

“If you’re trying to become happier by changing money, you’re doing it the hard way.” — Gordon Brown

It turns out that whilst we’ve all been chasing the big things, there are lots of small things we can do to make us happier. And they are really quite tiny. Like for instance, writing down what you are grateful for every day is shown to increase your optimism.

Other advice includes:

  • Listening to your favourite song.
  • Spending time with your friends and family.
  • Positive exchanges between people e.g. compliments, memories, laughter.

Harvard researchers found that mindfulness and happiness are linked. Their research found that people reported low levels of happiness when their mind was wandering. In other words, when they weren’t focused on the task at hand.

“I’m sure there are some circumstances mind wandering is pretty helpful but those are pretty rare.”- Matthew Killingsworth

And that’s the bedrock of mindfulness. Enjoying the now. Also foundational to your happiness is getting a good night’s sleep. And according to research, happier people tend to sleep better, so the cycle works both ways.

The heads and tails of it is, you don’t need abundance to be happy. Sure having a standard of living is important but more accumulation doesn’t led to more happiness.

TLDR: It’s the little things that make the biggest difference.

Final Thoughts

It seems there two things to think about when considering happiness. The first is that you may well, and most probably do, have all the elements for a happy life. That one consideration can change the way you look at this happiness thing. The second is the realisation that all the big things aren’t really where happiness is found.

There are two simple thoughts that might change your relationship with happiness:

  • Realise that you have everything you need right now.
  • Understand it’s the little things that make all the difference.