Here’s a fundamental truth about happiness that will probably strike you as bizarre or even contradictory: it doesn’t take much.
You might think you need money… but studies have repeatedly shown that as long as you have enough to keep your peace of mind, more money doesn’t make you happier. You might think you need health… and sure, bad health can be an upheaval, especially if there is chronic pain, but psychological adaptation is a powerful tool. I recall one study in particular which followed a group of people who had recently suffered lifechanging injuries and another group that had recently won the lottery. After a six month period of adjustment, both groups reported roughly the same level of happiness they remembered having before these events. Relationships can make you happier, sure, but that’s a tricky one. After all, happy relationships generally come from people who are already emotionally healthy, don’t they?
Now, I don’t say any of this to discount the hardships that I’m sure some of you deal with everyday, but to stress that circumstances aren’t what make the ultimate difference. You can be healthy, secure, and have good people around you and still not feel happy. There’s something else that can only come from inside.
So what is the secret ingredient? First, I think it might be useful to turn our language around. A secret ingredient implies that we need to acquire some new, elusive trait or quality, but it’s probably more accurate to think of subtracting something.
I assume you read the title, so there’s no point in beating around the bush. Yes, it’s pride. But we can get a little more specific than that: pride is the root issue, but it’s expectations that stem from it, and that’s the part that tends to screw up our daily happiness.
When people think of pride, they tend to imagine rich people with gold watches and a sneer, shallow celebrities, maybe politicians or that one arrogant relative—and sure, those can be valid examples. But pride has another voice besides the one that says, I am better than X. This one says, I DESERVE X.
Human beings constantly form expectations about the future… and no, that’s not inherently a bad thing. Our imagination, what I call the Image Maker, is the source of all our art, all our creativity, and a big chunk of our rational decision-making. You can’t even drive to the grocery store without picturing it first.
The trouble is that although our image maker is incredibly powerful, it can’t actually tell the future. There is absolutely no way we can take every possible complication into account… and yet, for one reason or another, we persist in thinking that we are owed a certain outcome. Sometimes, that might be because we’ve gotten used to it, sometimes it might be because society or our parents tell us to expect it, or for any number of other reasons. Whatever the reason, the end result is that we take ownership of a specific set of circumstances, and once we’re fixated we don’t see whether our lives are good, we only see whether they are what we think they should be.
That’s what I mean when I say it doesn’t take much. Not that whatever problems you may have aren’t problems, but that there is almost always more good to be found in the present than we credit, if we’re willing to look past the specific sort we’re looking for.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd