‘When I grow up, I want to be happy’….
That’s one profound statement coming from a child, enough to make any one of us light up in awe.
But that innocent dream soon gets swayed by the ways of the world and goes all haywire when it turns into, I’ll be happy When:
“I pass my exams-
I’ll be happy when I get admitted into a top Uni-
I’ll be happy when I get to date Mr/Ms Popular (okay this isn’t going too well)-
I’ll be happy when I break up and just move on-
I’ll be happy when I land in my first job-
I’ll be happy when I earn shit loads of money-
I’ll be happy when I find my partner for life and get married-
I’ll be happy when we have kids to build our life together-
I’ll be happy when these little brats start taking me seriously…..
You know this can go on….
We spend our lives chasing this idea of happiness as an ultimate goal which will last forever once we achieve it.
Far from reality, thats an illusion.
Not entirely our fault, we’ve been taught it all wrong. Happiness is not some end goal waiting for us at the finishing line. Nor is it an outcome, rather it’s a process. A process one needs to embrace and keep working at, just like one would do with building a skill!
Think of it this way, recall the first time you heard your bae say ‘I love you’, or the first time you got your hands behind the wheel of the first car you bought. Those feelings are priceless and must have left a special imprint in your memory.
But fast forward a year down the line, do you still feel the same rush every time you hear those 3 magic words or you drive around in your 4 wheels? Probably not.
Welcome to the hedonic treadmill, a psychological theory that describes the human tendency to acclimate to events as their newness subsides. Basically our initial bursts of pleasure or happiness to anything ultimately dies down in due course of time.
This is also known as hedonic adaptation, referring to our innate ability to adapt to any event no matter how big or small, because as time passes we all normalize to reality as is.
So you see, our brains are not the best at predicting the stuff that will make us happy, after all. Be it the best grades, that hi-flying job, finding true love etcetera. Initially it all feels amazing, but before we know it, we become accustomed to each of these things and everything eventually becomes the new normal.
Is it any surprise why there’s so much emphasis on Gratitude? Being thankful for what we have acts like a constant reminder to take joy in all that is present in our lives, so we’re not taking things for granted like entitled dispirited beings.
As per Science we all have a Happiness-set point, which is our genetically determined predisposition towards happiness. Owing to our genes, we’re naturally more or less happier than others.
Don’t lose hope just yet, Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests that 40% of happiness comes from our thoughts, attitudes and actions. So there’s still plenty of leeway for acing the happiness game!
One of the things that brings us pleasure aka the dopamine rush is novelty. We just love all things new! Sticking to the same routine can get super mundane and boring, which inevitably sucks the joy out of us, especially for those of us who thrive in adventure and diversity! This calls for making a conscious effort to keep things alive by taking up new interests, setting new goals and indulging in fresh experiences.
Another unconventional strategy for sustained happiness is accessing the flow state regularly i.e moments where you lose track of time doing what you love! This is about identifying activities that pose a challenge yet are fun to do. Certainly a great way to also finding your passion, because when you pursue your passion everything else follows.
Coming to a common block to happiness, lets talk about adversity. It’s easy to be happy when everything’s going well and as per our plans, but what happens when shit hits the fan?
Often it is the deepest pain that unlocks our full potential. Operating with resilience empowers one to find opportunities for learning and growth even in the most troubled times. Failed in your class? Not the end of the world, see where you went wrong and what you could do better next.
Assigning meaning and purpose to hardship is a sure way to building your happiness immunity and something that the sages and the philosophers have left behind as lessons.
There’s also secret code to happiness most of us fail to crack, serving others with love and kindness. That’s right, much against our natural instinct to put ourselves first, studies reveal that we’re actually happier when doing kind things or spending on others.
Self-care and compassion is just as important. You are not your thoughts, as cogent or negative as they may be. Treat yourself with kindness because you cannot be happy with anyone unless you’re happy with yourself.
When you react negatively to something- forgive yourself rather than carrying resentment, when you’ve failed- allow yourself to learn from your mistakes, when you have set a big goal- stay patient with yourself and enjoy the journey.
By now you may realise that like any skill, happiness too is a piece of work, particularly if you’re looking to sustain it.
The good news is that it all starts with a choice and that power lies with nobody but you.