Here’s the thing about life, it isn’t as bad as we perceive it to be. Now don’t get me wrong, there are people out there who have it rough. There are people out there who have it beyond anyones wildest dreams, but the truth is, our subjective perception of our own lives is flawed. We as human beings have a negative bias. We see everything as a shade darker than other people see it. Our subjective experience of this world is dimmed by our own brain (first of all, how dare you). Everyone has this negative bias, some more or less than others. Our life experiences are actually better than our brain allows us to interpret. How funky is that? That our brain would make ourselves believe that things are worse than reality. Perhaps its an evolutionary adaptation. You see, if our great ancestors heard a rattle from the bushes, they may have a better chance at survival if they thought it was a predator rather than a prey. If you think about it, our brains are really just preparing us for the worst. Granted, we don’t live in times where we have to worry about life threatening predators, so our brains adjusted to fit our more modern issues. Is that not just punch-you-in-the-face fantastic? Don’t even get me started.
Happiness is a curious thing. In my third year of university, I actually took a course on The Science of Well Being. A funny moment was when the professor asked us what the difference between happiness and well-being was. I thought the words were synonymous. They can be, but typically they are viewed as two different, separate experiences. Well-being is typically defined as a state of good health and comfort, while happiness is defined as an emotion of contentedness. Happiness can lead to well-being and well-being can lead to happiness, but you can also have one without the other. Before you ask the age-old question, let me answer it for you. No. Money does not buy happiness (and don’t get me started with well, I’d rather cry in a Ferrari than a fiat). You see money and well-being (for simplicity sake we’ll go with happiness and well-being as synonymous) actually have quite a curvilinear relationship. If someone has no money (zero, zip, zilch) and they are given $100 (net gain of $100), they experience a large increase in happiness. If someone starts off with $1000 and they are given $100 (net gain of $100), they actually experience a very tiny increase in happiness (practically negligible). The same net gain of $100 has given two different people, two different experiences of happiness. This is because money doesn’t serve a happiness function, but rather a utility function. The person with zero money cannot afford food, water, shelter, care for family. That net gain of $100 gives them the ability to purchase basic living requirements that a person with $1000 can afford. In other words, money doesn’t buy happiness, it grants survival.
So fear not. You can still be happy even if you don’t win the lottery or have a job with a ridiculous income. I could tell you what factors do influence happiness but in all honesty, you’ll never find happiness in a textbook (I didn’t). The truth is, you’ll never actually find happiness. Let me tell you why (no I promise this is not about to get super emo). Happiness is not an old friend that moved away when things got rough. Happiness is not that bottle of tequila your roommate hid away from you. Happiness is not that last cigarette of the pack that you’re tearing apart your purse (or man purse, whatever floats your boat) to find. Happiness is not that little ray of sunshine your sister just gave birth to (congratulations you’re an aunt or uncle!). Happiness is not that person you see walking down the aisle in a beautiful white gown. Happiness is not a person. It’s not an object. You can’t find happiness. But, you can create it. Each and every single person has the incredible ability to make happiness. Whether it’s seeing your baby take his first steps, or seeing your little boy hit his first home run, or seeing your new dog jump up and give you kisses. Whether it’s seeing the look on your husbands face when you tell him he’s going to be a father, or seeing the look on your girlfriends face as you’re down on one knee, ring in hand, asking her to spend the rest of her life with you, or seeing your childs face light up when they read you their acceptance letter to college. Even if it’s just drinking a cold beer with an old friend you haven’t seen in years, or sitting around in a basement playing video games with a close-knit group of friends. It is in those moments that a person experiences happiness. Because you don’t need to cripple yourself with this idea that happiness comes from another person. Happiness is not in another being, waiting to be found and unravelled. Happiness is within you, waiting to be expressed and enjoyed in any way in which you please. Even the simple act of smiling (when there is no reason to smile) triggers a chain reaction of happiness in the brain. You want to know why you can’t find happiness?
It isn’t lost.