I will only be happy if i get this job, or if i have this much money, or if i marry this person; these thoughts cross everyone’s mind eventually, but all of them are flawed (with the partial exception of the last one which i will explain later). Happiness mostly comes in moments, and barely for extended periods of time. All of our hopes and dreams are just us trying to achieve lasting happiness. Unfortunately, this is doomed from the start.
Picture happiness like a graph:
1 (happy) ——–x————-
0 (neutral) ———x———–
-1 (negative emotion) ——–x————-
0 is a normal day, nothing good/bad happens. 1 is a happy day, something good happens, and -1 is a bad day. You can go further up than one and further down than negative one if it’s exceptionally good/bad.
Now if something good happens to you on Tuesday (you win the lottery) you become really happy. You will be so happy for the following months; however, (according to a study) by 6 months you will level back down to 0. This means that you will no longer be at that heightened state of happiness. What happened though, did you spend all the money? No, what happened was you became used to your status. Having a large sum of money every day lost its pizazz. Promotions are the same thing, you feel happy for a little bit, and then it wears off. This may sound a little depressing but i have some good news.
The same is true for the adverse emotions. If you are in a car accident, several months/years later (no matter how severe the damage) you will feel mentally better. You will reach that neutral level of happiness again. This is called the Adaptation Principal in psychology. People adapt to change fairly well it seems.
How can we stay happy if we eventually level back down to neutral?
Happiness can only be achieved through growth. If you continue to win the lottery or earn promotions, you will continue to be happy. But that’s not easy since you will probably be dead from lightning killing you before you win the lottery even the first time, and eventually promotions stop coming (you can’t really promote someone who is at the top of the company latter). There is an easier way though. Learn something; find a hobby. Personally i play my drums. But it’s not enough to have a hobby, you must improve that skill. People are happiest when they face a challenge that is at their level. If you play easy songs or draw stick figures your entire life you will not grow and fail to feel truly happy. When you learn a new skill this increases your happiness, and as you grow in skill, you grow on the Adaptation chart. Theoretically, if you continue to grow every day you will never have an unhappy day.