Do We Know What Will Make Us Happy?

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I remember reading once that when put to the test, what we think will make us happy usually doesn’t end up actually making us all that happier when we get it. I’ve noticed this in my own life, especially recently thanks to this pandemic. One of the things I’m always longing for is more free time. I’ve always wished that I didn’t have to work so I could spend my days any way I choose, with no obligations or responsibilities. Yet after just a short time “working from home” (I don’t find myself having much actual work), I was even less happy than I was when I was waking up early and spending eight full hours every weekday at my job.

Now this could be just because I have an exceptionally amazing job with coworkers that I consider dear friends, but even when I lost the job I hated and got to spend a summer on unemployment, I was miserable. Back then I attributed it to having to fret about finding another job, but now I think it was more than just that. What I always imagined would make me happy, even what I thought I needed in order to be calm and happy, turned out to be completely wrong.

Why is that? It’s impossible for me to wrap my head around it for very long. After a few weeks back in the office full time, I was already back to daydreaming about having more free-time. Even though I just saw that it would do me no good! I’d just spend it being anxious and depressed rather than doing all the productive things I’d pictured myself doing with it. It could have something to do with another interesting tidbit from Time Warped, the time perception book I’ve mentioned.

Apparently we often put things off or make plans we can’t ultimately follow through with because for some reason we imagine ourselves having more time in the future. Yet if we imagined ourselves moving up the date to tomorrow or next week, we’d find our plans ridiculous and out of the question. I definitely think this mindset contributes to my procrastination. It does often seem like things will be easier in the future. I’ll have more time. I’ll be in a better place mentally. I’ll have fixed all the problems I’m struggling with by then. Etc, etc. Humans always have a tendency to be over-optimistic about the future. I always though I was the exception to that rule, given I fear the end of society is just on the horizon. But when it comes to smaller things in my personal life, I fall into the same flawed thinking.

This may seem like depressing news, to find out you actually won’t have more free time or be happier in some imagined future where everything has gone your way. But there is a silver lining. We no longer have to feel like we’re waiting for something before we can be happy. Chances are we wouldn’t be happy when we reached that idyllic future anyway. It’s a useful lesson. We should just learn to enjoy where we are now. We can be happy where we are with what we already have.

Not only do we not need to wait for a distant future to find happiness, we also don’t need to be so afraid of things that may happen in the future either. We may overestimate how happy something will make us, but we also overestimate how detrimental something will be in our lives. Both lottery winners and holocaust survivors both end up pretty close to everyone else in the end when it comes to happiness and a sense of well-being. We will eventually adjust to anything, no matter how amazing or horrific.

With this knowledge we can learn to relax. We can ease into the life that unravels before us each moment. There is no need to become attached, try to avoid/resist, or get upset when something doesn’t go the way we think it should have gone. After all, what do we know? Once we give up our obsession with trying to control every little aspect of our lives, we may find that we are able to live with much more ease. Have faith that this universe is playing out exactly as it should be. Have faith in yourself, in your ability to handle whatever life presents you with. Let go of expectations. They always seems to let us down or prevent us from seeing life for the incredible, beautiful thing it really is.

I know that all the happiness I will ever find is already here inside of me. I’ve been struggling to arrange my world to my whims, when in the end I don’t even really know what will turn out to be best for me. So instead I will try to let go. I will try to take each day for what it is with curiosity and a grateful heart.

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