The Happiness Paradox

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Buzzing off the annoying alarm, I wake up feeling tensed. I go outside to fetch the daily newspaper where I encounter my neighbour Rahul. There he is in his running shorts and t-shirt. He picks up the newspaper for me, hits me with his charismatic smile, which felt like a moment of happiness that vanished away as soon as he went.

He works in a small restaurant as a chef, living in a tiny house yet he is more happier.

But me, I hate to admit it. I have earned over two promotions in the past 8 months. My income increased over 37%. But I wasn’t satisfied yet.

I bought a Honda Accord (a red one), an iPhone Xs Max, and I did went on a trip to France, yet nothing seemed to delight me in the long run.

So, I aimed for the top rung. Becoming the manager of the company which I was working for. I thought reaching that place would for sure help me be happier.

God, I was horribly wrong.

4 years passed by, with nothing different. I woke up, worked in my sulky cabin from 9 am to I probably don’t remember. Slept most of my days in my office. It was gruesome.

Becoming the manager had its own perks. I earned a lot more. Still, I wasn’t happier.

So I bought more cars, bigger mansions, this time I even went on a travelling spree for over a month, but I wasn’t happier at all.

Despite the umpteen promotions, the money I earned, the things I bought nothing seemed to satisfy me.

I was the guy, whom you could look up to if you wish to achieve “Materialistic success”.

Yeah, you may not have gone on a travelling spree or you may not have bought the new iPhone. But what you might do is chase these unworthy pursuits of more money and other pleasures such supercars, bigger houses etc…

In case you haven’t heard me yell at you like 13 times already, I am gonna repeat it to you one more time.

More cars, and bigger mansions will never buy you happiness.

Now, let me ask you something. How would you feel if you have lost a leg or an arm, or worst case, when you wake up tomorrow morning, you become a paraplegic or a quadriplegic?

Doesn’t sound sexy? Does it?

But research shows that quadriplegic and paraplegic people aren’t sad throughout their entire lives. After some months later even paraplegics and quadriplegics live as happier (even better) than we are.

Why?

Let me introduce to you,

The Hedonic Treadmill.

Despite the experiences we encounter, let it be joy or melancholy, we return to our initial states of happiness.

This principle states that as humans we possess a fixed range of happiness where we prevail most of the time.

When something great or really sad occurs our level of happiness either goes over the roof, or falls through the trench, respectively. But eventually it falls to the baseline over time.

To illustrate this,

Remember the last time you got your promotion, or when you got your new car, you might have been excited initially, but eventually the level of happiness must have fallen down for sure.

The same way, we might have also heard the phrase that “Time eases pain” or “Time changes everything”, it’s true. But, time doesn’t wear off the effects of misery or happiness. It’s habituation or in other words, hedonic adaptation.

When you are exposed to a certain experience for a longer time, habituation kicks in. The effects fade away. Soon you reach the baseline or base range of happiness.

You can avoid habituation by two methods¹,

  1. Increase the variety

2. Increase the time between the occurrence of two events

I have given you with an opportunity, to dine at the city’s best restaurant the first Monday of every month for free. But the catch is that, the food which you choose to have, will only be the one served to you each month.

Yes, you will have the same Noodles/Chapatti/Chicken Kebab/X food item each month’s first Monday.

“Same food for every serving? Sounds boring man”

It ain’t, With the increase of time between two events, the happiness you get never changes.²

Now let’s say, I have offered you with a ticket where you could eat an entire day in a restaurant but you have to eat the same food, every time for the day. Morning, afternoon and dinner; the same Dum-briyani, Pizza, Dosa or whatever item you wish to have.

This really sounds boring. Why?

The time between these two events are less, so we need to add variety (to avoid habituation).

So we have three different meals, for morning, afternoon and dinner.

Now we know that increasing time interval and variety prevents habituation. So we try to apply one by one to our own lives, with respect to happiness.

But with life, it’s hard to introduce a lot of time between two events as we get easily adapted. But what we could do is add variety.

“With more variety, we could experience more happiness”.

So you try to find different pleasures.

You earn a lot more, buy supercars, get the girls hanging all around you, travel around the world, drink, smoke, eat different dishes, go out for swimming, have sex with those hot chicks.

Let me be frank, this is what many of aspire to have (more or less). A rich life where we could do whatever we want. But the harsh truth is that, even such a big list with umpteen varieties, could get exhausted within 3 years or less, even if you had that much money to spend.

But if we aren’t that rich? What would we do (probably)?

We soak our heads into our knees, in a foetal position, sitting in one corner of the room wishing for such a life

OR

We work our ass off, spending our entire lives on chasing meaningless pursuits such as money, fame and other materialistic things.

“We are eventually going to be habituated, regardless of what I do. So what’s the point of my mere existence?”

Whoa! Before you jump off a cliff questioning your existence, let me ask you something.

What were you thinking throughout until this point of the post?

It has always been about your Materialistic Desires, Fetishes and Brain numbing pleasures.

Yes, all those things make you feel happy. And if that’s what you want then you are just another human who likes to numb himself till his last breath.

Endless pleasure in itself is a form of punishment

Ryan Holiday (The Daily Stoic)

And I think you are better than that.

“I want to be happy man. That’s all I ever wanted.”

I am here to help you, but you have to first realise that as humans we easily fall into the trap of chasing materialism and insignificant pleasures. Why?

We want more materialistic things to fill the void which the absence of happiness left us with.

But the truth is that, materialism doesn’t help us to be happy.

Now let me tell something, which you haven’t probably heard in your life.

Happiness is not something you chase. The pursuit of happiness will only make you less happy. It’s counter-intuitive.

Happiness is a by-product, not the primary one. Let me explain

If you do X, you will be happy.

Now the question is, what do you place instead of X?

If materialism doesn’t buy happiness, then what else does?

Eudaimonic happiness does.

“Huh? What’s that, eudi…?”

Eudaimonic happiness (The Greek Philosopher, Aristotle found this), something of worth you could pursue.

“You just said being in pursuit of happiness does not bring you joy. Yet you are insisting me pursue some eudi happiness. Stop confusing me man!”

Yes, it’s something actually you could pursue, Why?

It’s principles advise you to pursue worthy goals which inturn brings you happiness and not the other way around.

This leads us to the next question. What goals are worthy?

Let us allow Martin Seligman an American psychologist, educator, author of self-help books, to help us with the above question.

He describes the three different lives.

  1. Pleasant life — It involves chasing materialistic pleasures, other pleasures which numbs your brain off. (Hedonic happiness)

2. Good life– A good life is one where you use your strengths for personal gratification.

For instance: Working hard so you could earn more. To live in a better house, eat better food and stuff like that.

This stays right in-between hedonic and eudaimonic

3. Meaningful life– The usage of strengths at your disposal to do something greater than oneself. This is the perfect example of eudaimonic happiness

Ex: Donating to charity, Taking care of the environment etc…

When you go out your way to help somebody, that’s the purest of form of joy you could ever experience.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t need money. It is essential, but it doesn’t buy you happiness.

“Is helping others the only way?”

Nope…

“Before you assist others, always put your oxygen mask first”

Because when you care well enough for yourself, you operate in the highest point of contribution.

There are several other things which helps you achieve this.

1. Autonomy

In 2014, Guler and his colleague collected and studied data of 232 participants, about their authenticity, life satisfaction and levels of distress at two points in time separated by almost two months. They found that those who showed greater authenticity at the first time point were more satisfied with life and less distressed at the second time point and vice versa.

Autonomy is being an independent or authentic person, who doesn’t find happiness in pleasing others. And studies reveal that being authentic equates to happiness.

He stays true to himself. And doesn’t care much about other people’s opinions. These people follow their own path.

For instance,

Working on your goals of becoming an artist/web dev/film maker, when others criticise you.

Dress the way you like and not the way others want you to.

Be true to your inner conscience.

And if that sounds complex, just ask yourself this simple question.

“Am I truly doing this for myself or to please others?”

2. Environment mastery

It deals with how you work/manage the environment surrounding you.

For instance, When your boyfriend ditches you, what do you do?

You mustn’t succumb to despair. But use it as fuel to work on your passion project, or other activities which helps you to become a better you.

When you debt piles up (more than what you ever imagine), instead of wishing for some miracle to change your life; Be accountable. Cut back on the unnecessary expenditures. Stop going out to parties. Stop buying stupid. Pay off your debt.

Being the master of your environment makes you more self-aware, which is a pretty good thing.

Start being accountable.

My suggestion, would be to be responsible for your emotions and actions for the next one week. You cannot blame anybody, but you.

And make sure to account things only which are under your control. There is no point in worry about shit which we have no control over.

It would for sure help you alter your perception.

3. Building positive relationships

Healthy relationships helped human existence to prevail. Else we would be long gone. We are not meant to live our entire lives being lone-wolves. Those people who enrich our lives, building beautiful memories, helping us in times of need, etc.., it’s just precious.

Building positive relationships involves embracing their flaws and taking care of them.

Robert Waldinger (An American psychiatrist) stresses on how relationships helps to build a better life.

Start building positive relationships.

How?

Shut down your smartphones and talk to your mom/Wife/Husband. Just for five minutes. You would feel relaxed.

Call up on an old friend/ a relative whom you haven’t talk to in the past week.

We are like a deck of cards; different colours and symbols but one cannot work without the whole set.

4. Having a life purpose

This itself is a vague statement and deserves separate attention, I recommend you to check out this article on life’s purpose.

It states how solving problems and helping others aids us in finding the meaning of our life.

Here is an article which holds several questions that could help you find the meaning of your life.

5. Self-acceptance

Happiness can only exist in acceptance

George Orwell

What makes life more beautiful is the acceptance of one’s own flaws. It helps you to be much happier.

Start embracing your flaws and accept yourself as who you are.

And studies prove that self-acceptance helps you be more compassionate to your fellow humans, your confidence level skyrockets through the roof and you are much happier.

6. Personal-growth

To grow as a better individual and to contribute in a much better way.

How to grow yourself?

Start reading books on psychology and philosophy. Why?

They help you understand yourself and only when you do so you could start developing yourself.

This has worked for me, until now,

1. Minimalism
2. Essentialism
3. Stoicism

Sure there are plenty of ways to develop yourself. Figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Don’t just watch YouTube videos or skim through some pages of a book or an article to develop yourself.

Dedicate the time and energy, at least five minutes a day.

If you don’t have the time to read books or watch videos on personal development, do any of the following.

i. Meditate

It’s simpler than it sounds. As soon as you wake up, just sit up straight, fold your legs, close your eyes with palms on your lap and focus on your breathing. If you find yourself wandering off, try to focus on your breathing once again.

ii. Exercise

Do things which gets your heart rate pumped up.

Ride a bicycle, run for 10 mins. Or much simpler. Try to do 5 push-ups every single day.

And eventually you would build the habit of exercising.

7. Testing yourself to the core.

We have to realise that human potential is limitless. And one such realisation in a man called David Goggins changed his life.

From a 300 pound guy to a navy seal.

Former pull-up world record holder (with 4030 pull ups)

Went through not one but three hell-weeks.

Finished several ultra marathons, without realising that he a whole in his heart in the size of a poker chip (His heart was functioning only at 75% of its capacity).

He says how on the other side of sacrifice is greatness. How realising your full potential will help you be happier, more than you could ever imagine.

Do things which would get you out of your comfort zone.

Start by making your bed after you wake up. Even though you are tired or lazy.

Other than the list given above, there are several habits which you do to decrease your stress levels, which may help you be much happier

  • Sleep 8 hours a day (Believe me, it works like a charm)
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Exercise daily
  • Eat healthy food

These are some ways through which you could achieve eudaimonic happiness

Desire is never ending, and it consumes you.

Thus stop chasing materialistic pleasures.

If eudaimonic happiness has to be stated in a single sentence, it emphasizes the role of self-discovery and personal growth as a means through which we achieve a truly satisfying life.

An eudaimonic self is present in each and every one of us awaiting to be discovered. And our duty is to create those ideal conditions for its expression, by following the principles stated above.

Happiness yet remains to be a vague concept.

All I can say for now is that during the short period of life that we have, let us

  • Contribute to something
  • Help somebody
  • Cherish nature
  • Do something beyond ourselves
  • Embracing the flaws we have on the whole as humans
  • Let go of meaningless pursuits of more money and fame and
  • Start making some change to create a better world.

Every helping hand matters, no matter how big or small.

We together could build a better society.

I am up for this… Are you?


FOOTNOTES:

[1] [2] Chapter 7: Time Bombs- Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert


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