Apparently, most of us have a default level of happiness. No matter what our station is in life, we are all slightly dissatisfied. Slightly. Life is just never quite good enough, even when it really is.
This default happiness level readjusts depending on your circumstances. Even if something significant happens to you, like winning the lottery, you soon get over it and return to that base level of slight dissatisfaction.
Luckily this works in reverse too!
If you have a divorce, for example, or end up in an accident that leaves you paralysed — studies have shown that although your life on paper becomes worse, you readjust. Shit feels awful for a while, but then get used to this new normal. You accept it — sort of — and move back to your default level of happiness.
“I can’t use my legs anymore, but I can still binge-watch NETFLIX every evening like I used to!” Or, “I don’t have a smoking hot wife anymore but, you know, there are other less attractive fish in the sea. Ones that won’t steal my stuff. I’ll settle for one of those!”
That’s the spirit!
The reason for this is simple: survival.
It’s not the best strategy to be content with life. Otherwise, we’d stop chasing after that next promotion or that bigger house. We’d stop securing a safer existence for ourselves and our family — even if we already live on a luxury yacht!
It’s for this reason that our egos keep tricking us. It tells us, if you get that next promotion, or have sex with that smoking hot chick, or save enough money for that fast car, then you’ll be happy. Then you’ll achieve the kind of bliss that everyone else on Instagram clearly has.
And so you go after those things like your life depends on it.
But what happens when you actually get those things? When your hopes are realised? Of course, you’re happy for a time. That’s for the memory bank to remind you that more is better. But then what? That’s right, you get used to it! You get accustomed to your new sports car. You get over the fact that you had mind-blowing sex with that hot chick. You get used to the fact that your new house has 8 bedrooms, 2 tennis courts, and an infinity pool.
Once you do, you’ll find yourself back in that familiar default setting of life is okay-ish. Not bad, but it could be better. “I mean, It’s not like I have the fastest sports car in the market, right? And if I’m honest, she was only an 8 out of 10. Plus, I’d quite like a bigger fucking boat!”
The obvious problem, for those canny enough to recognise this ego trick, is that it’s never enough.
Happiness — the lasting kind at least — can’t be found through the pursuit of happiness. It’s like looking for gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ll never find it. There is no mountain high enough, no river wide enough, no luxury yacht big enough.
The other, less obvious problem, for those canny enough to see the bigger trap here, is your default setting has been adjusted to this more manageable level of existence. And this, I’m afraid to say, makes you weaker. It makes you softer because your default level of happiness is set against this higher standard of living. As a result, minor things start to bother you a lot more. You say, “Unless that waiter brings me the finest quality champagne, I’m gonna lose my shit!” Suddenly it becomes much harder to maintain that baseline of moderate happiness (or unhappiness as the case may be).
In gaining the world, you start to hate it.
As a pilot, I have the added perk of traveling in business class at a fraction of the price that most people pay, provided spare seats are going on a given flight. Is it a great thing? I enjoy business class, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think about it much anymore. That’s because I’m used to it. Instead, I find myself thinking about how great first class looks. I think, “If only my company would let me fly in first. Of course, business class isn’t bad, but, you know, it could be better.”
There I am, back to that default setting. (Spoilt brat, I know…)
But here’s the real kicker. When business is full and the only seats going are in economy class, well, then woe is fucking me! (Please don’t fuck me woe, not again!) What is normal and ok-ish for the vast majority of people has become a kind of hell because of my privilege. My privilege has made me weaker. It’s like that saying, once you go… (You know what? I’m not going to finish that sentence.)
This is the paradox that comes from making life easier for ourselves. We actually make it harder. Similarly, by chasing happiness, we end up finding less of it.
Now I’m going to ask you a question. I use this example only because it makes sense to me personally. Here it is: Why did you have kids? Why do you want to have kids?
To make you happy?
Sorry, that one slipped out. But seriously, if your reason is/was to make you happy, you need to sit down and have a rethink.
Kids make everything more complicated. Everything.
There’s a lot of research that suggests couples end up unhappier after having kids. I can vouch for that. Having kids was a rude awakening. It was a shock to my admittedly delicate system. And it didn’t make me happier having them. At least not initially. (There’s a fat dose of honesty for you.)
Changing nappies 8 times a day, being pissed on, rocking them for a goddam hour at 4 am, only for them to wake up the moment you place them in their cots…! Finding any which way to settle the little bastards. (I love them, really.)
If you haven’t felt an overwhelming urge to throw your baby out of the window at some point as a new parent, well, you’re not honest. That’s why, if you want to have kids, you have to really really want them. You also have to be very clear about why you have children.
Because if your why is in the pursuit of happiness, they will make you miserable — they will drive you insane. Then you might actually throw your children out the window. Of course, that would be bad. Very very bad. (I have to keep telling myself that.)
So why would you have kids then?
Well, the same reason you might decide to climb Everest or chose any challenging endeavor. For a sense of fulfillment, to help the world raise a more virtuous and responsible generation, to help you grow as an individual…
You have children because it gives your life more meaning. You do it for love, as cliche as that sounds. You don’t do it for your happiness. Don’t do anything for your happiness. Fuck your happiness. I mean it.
Ok, no, I don’t. What I mean is fuck looking for your happiness. The only thing that’s guaranteed in this life is pain. Happiness is never guaranteed. Never. You should write that on a billboard and hang it on your living room wall.
My first child forced me to reconcile with some dark inner demons. The moment I was candid with myself and realised that his wellbeing depended on me sorting my own shit, well, everything changed. Seriously. Everything. I sought therapy for his benefit. I did it for his happiness, and in the process, ended up finding my own.
Right there is the trick. What’s your why? That’s always a great question to ask yourself. If your why is happiness, you can expect unhappiness. If your why is to serve something bigger than yourself, well, then you’re actually on to something. Because the genuine pursuit of happiness is found in the pursuit of meaning through pain.
If you pursue meaning through pain, you’ll find the small stuff stops pissing you off. You’ll also find the everyday stuff that everyone takes for granted becomes a kind of paradise.
Suddenly you’ll look down after a long day in which your kids pressed every button — a day in which your nerves were utterly shredded. Despite that, you kept them alive. Not only that, you helped them grow. You also realise that you didn’t completely lose your shit this time. You notice that you also grew as a person. You realise that all that pain you suffered through gave you something no amount of money ever can. And as you look down at your kids, who are fast asleep, in a seemingly mundane moment, you suddenly feel something akin to happiness, but it’s not. It’s something more significant than that.
What you’ve found is peace.
You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com