Last night, Jesse and I went out and met up with a few friends. At some point, the conversation turned to the science/study of happiness. Lots of theories on what makes us happy were thrown around. We all talked about studies we’ve read, TED talks we’ve viewed, and our own personal experiences.
There are a lot of ideas out there about how we find happiness, what hinders our happiness, and how everyone contributes to the pie. Some of the theories we through around:
- We have an abundance of choice – Choice should make us happier. Right? Having the option between an 8-pack of crayons and a 64-pack of crayons is always better, right? Wrong. Generally speaking, when we have too much choice, we become incapable of measuring marginal improvement and always feel that “the grass is always greener,” than whatever choice we made. When we’re distilled down to a few options, we end up feeling better about the choice we made. We can recognize the gains we took in our choice amongst a few. I’ve embedded a TED talk I believe I’ve posted before about this paradox in choice abundance:
- Expectations – these are the best and worst things that can happen to a person in relation to happiness. Have them too high and you end up feeling pretty isolation and dissatisfied. Too low and you often find that you get less than you deserve. We talked about this in relation to partnerships. Should you have high or low expectations when you are dating?
I brought up a study I read about arranged marriages. As it turns out, arranged marriages often have higher happiness and marital satisfaction ratings than “love marriages”. Why is this? Lower expectations. In the U.S. we’re chronically unhappy in our partnerships for the most part. I see and hear of couples that just want the other person to change. If they could just change, that would be better. When in reality, much of happiness in relationships is accepting your partner as they are and understanding that any change they do is for themselves. Gottman argues to have high expectations in your relationships. So, what’s the right answer?
I’m not quite sure. There’s a difference between expectations of relationships (i.e. family, income, housing, retirement, etc.) and expectations of love. A lot of it has to do with our subjective experiences. We all do it; we compare ourselves to others. We look at our next door neighbors and realize we have the same jobs, the same incomes, and the same opportunities, yet for some reason, they have more stuff, or more happiness, or more blah blah blah than we do. We were just fine before we perceived their happiness as greater than ours, but now that we feel we’re being cheated out of something that we could have if only we did X.
So what needs to happen for us to eradicate these things that influence our unhappiness?
We need to eliminate superfluous choice.
- Do we really need 800 channels on our TVs? Do we need cable at all?
- Do we absolutely have to possess a pair of the same shoes in white, black, beige, and brown?
- Do we need phones that can check the internet, call our moms, schedule our lives, and make us a grilled cheese?
We also need to take a chill pill on our expectations and practice a little bit of mindfulness.
- Does our partner have to soothe all of our emotional hurts or is that our responsibility?
- Do we have to worry about how nice our car is in comparison to our peers?
- Is the hotness level of the person we are dating going to matter to us in 50 years when we’re old and wrinkly?
- Is the restaurant we’re eating at right now good enough? If you ate somewhere better last week, are you going to get up and leave your table this instant or are you just going to appreciate what you’re doing in the moment?
These aren’t the only ways we impede our happiness levels, but it’s a start. I would encourage you to consider what choices you could afford to free yourself of and what expectations you’re holding on to that decrease your life satisfaction. As my yoga teacher would say, “Let go of that which does not serve you.”