Don’t try to be happy. We’re programmed to be dissatisfied | Frank T McAndrew

Perpetual bliss would entirely undermine our will to accomplish anything at all thats why perfect contentment has probably been evolved out of us

In the 1990 s, a psychologist named Martin Seligman resulted the positive psychology movement, which placed the study of human happiness squarely at the centre for human rights of psychology the investigations and theory. It continued a trend that began in the 1960 s with humanistic and existential psychology, which emphasized the importance of reaching ones innate potential and creating meaning in ones life, respectively.

Since then, thousands of studies and hundreds of books have been published with the goal of increasing wellbeing and provide assistance to lead more satisfying lives.

So why arent we happier? Why have self-reported measures of happiness stayed stagnant for over 40 years?

Perversely, such efforts to improve happiness could be a futile attempt to swim against the tide, as we may actually be programmed to be dissatisfied most of the time.

Part of their own problems is that happiness isnt just one thing.

Jennifer Hecht is a philosopher who analyses the history of happiness. In her volume The Happiness Myth, Hecht proposes that we all experience different types of happiness, but these arent necessarily complementary. Some types of happiness may even conflict with one another. In other words, having too much of one type of happiness may undermine our ability to have enough of the others so its impossible for us to simultaneously have all types of happiness in great quantities.

For example, a satisfying life built on a successful career and a good marriage is something that unfolds over longer periods. It takes a lot of work, and it often requires avoiding hedonistic pleasures like partying or going on spur-of-the-moment trip-ups. It also means you cant while away too much of your time spending one pleasant lazy day after another in the company of good friends.

On the other hand, maintaining your snout to the grindstone demands that you cut back on many of lifes pleasures. Relaxing days and relationships may fall by the wayside.

As happiness in one area of life increases, itll often decline in another.

This dilemma is further confounded by the style our brains process the experience of happiness.

By way of illustration, consider the following examples.

Weve all started a sentence with the phrase Wont it be great when( I go to college, fall in love, have children, etc ). Similarly, we often hear older people start sentences with this phrase Wasnt it great when.

Think about how seldom you hear anyone say: Isnt this great, right now?

Surely, our past and future arent always better than the present. Yet we continue to think that this is the case.

These are the bricks that wall off harsh reality from the part of our mind that thinks about past and future happiness. Entire religions have been constructed from them. Whether were talking about our ancestral Garden of Eden( when things were great !) or the promise of unfathomable future happiness in Heaven, Valhalla, Jannah or Vaikuntha, eternal happiness is always the carrot hanging from the end of the divine stick.

Theres evidence for why our brains operate this style: most of us possess something called the optimistic bias, which is the tendency to think that our future will be better than our present.

To demonstrate this phenomenon to my classes, at the beginning of a new word Ill tell my students the average grade received by all students in my class over the past three years. I then ask them to anonymously report the grade that they expect to receive. The demonstration runs like a charm: without fail, the expected grades are far higher than one would reasonably expect, given the evidence at hand.

And yet, we believe.

Cognitive psychologists have also identified something “ve called the” Pollyanna principle. It means that we process, rehearse and recollect pleasant information from the past more than unpleasant datum.( An exception to this results in depressed individuals who often fixate on past failings and frustrations .)

For most of us, however, the reason that the good old days seem so good is that we focus on the pleasant stuff and tend to forget the day-to-day unpleasantness.

These hallucinations about the past and the future could be an adaptive part of the human subconsciou, with innocent self-deceptions actually enabling us to keep strive. If our past is great and our future can be even better, then we can work our way out of the unpleasant or at the least, mundane present.

All of this tells us something about the fleeting nature of happiness. Feeling researchers have long known about something called the hedonic treadmill. We work very hard to reach a objective, anticipating the happiness it will bring. Regrettably, after a brief fixing we speedily slide back to our baseline, ordinary style of being and start chasing the next thing we believe will almost certainly and finally make us happy.

My students utterly dislike hearing about this; they get bummed out when I imply that however happy they are right now, its probably about how happy they will be 20 years from now.( Next day, perhaps I will reassure them that in the future theyll recollect being very happy in college !)

Nevertheless, studies of gamble wins and other individuals at the top of their game those who seem to have it all regularly throw cold water on the dream that get what we really want will change our lives and make us happier. These studies found that positive events like winning thousands and thousands of bucks and unfortunate events such as being paralyzed in industrial accidents do not significantly affect an individuals long-term level of happiness.

Assistant profs who dream of attaining tenure and lawyers who dream of making partner often find themselves wondering why they were in such a hurry. After ultimately publishing a book, it was depressing for me to realize how quickly my attitude went from Im a guy who wrote a volume! to Im a guy whos merely written one book.

But this is how it should be, at the least from an evolutionary perspective. Displeasure with the present and dreamings of the future are what keep us motivated, while warm fuzzy memories of the past reassure us that the feelings we attempt can be had. In fact, perpetual bliss would totally undermine our will to accomplish anything at all; among our earliest ancestors, those who were perfectly content may have been left in the dust.

This shouldnt be depressing quite the contrary. Acknowledging that happiness exists, and that its a delightful visitor that never overstays its welcome, may help us appreciate it more when it arrives.

Furthermore, understanding that its impossible to have happiness in all aspects of life can assist you enjoy the happiness that has touched you.

Recognizing that no one has it all can cut down on the one thing psychologists know impedes happiness: envy.

This was originally published on The Conversation

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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