Sustained Happiness Is False
By Tamra Wade
I saw it all around me.
Everywhere everyone was living happy lives. I saw their lives on television, on social media, and in person. Everyone just seemed to have it all together. I thought I was failing myself, my daughter and those who loved me because I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sustain my happiness. I felt a deep sense of shame over it.
I spent a large portion of my life running from things that hurt me thinking I could run fast enough away from pain and arrive safely at happiness. I was convinced I could force myself to sustain happiness forever.
Over time I have learned that humans are not designed to sustain any particular emotion be it sadness, anger, happiness or other for extended periods of time. There is actually some observational theory to support this.
Melissa Dahl writes in her August 2016 article for Science of Us, You’re Not Supposed to Be Happy All the Time, “One of the more annoying quirks of human psychology has a name: hedonic adaptation. It’s a term psychologists use to describe the way you get used to the things that once made you happy.” Break it down, this means that warm happy feeling you initially feel when something good happens in your life will fade over time.
Dahl goes on to discuss a small 1978 study, Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative? published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol 36(8)) that found over time lottery winners were not much happier than before they’d won. The study also stated that the winners weren’t much happier than another group included in that study. The other group was comprised of people who had recently suffered some sort of terrible event. She quotes the authors of this study to say, “Eventually, the thrill of winning the lottery will itself wear off…If all things are judged by the extent to which they depart from a baseline of past experiences, gradually even the most positive events will cease to have impact as they themselves are absorbed into the new baseline against which further events are judged.”
Dahl quote from psychologist and the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College , Frank T. McAndrew from an article in the Conversation sums it up, “This shouldn’t be depressing; quite the contrary. Recognizing that happiness exists — and that it’s a delightful visitor that never overstays its welcome — may help us appreciate it more when it arrives.”
Knowing this is tremendously helpful. It has freed me up to allow my emotions to be more fluid instead of holding too tightly to feelings that are really designed to fade. It also brings to light how we should be focusing our efforts to purposefully plan and cause happiness to happen.
Happiness doesn’t have to be spontaneous. Funny to think that you could plan for happiness. You can. It’s a newer tool I am learning to use. I have to allow space for happiness to happen. Being hyper busy all the time is a distraction. It numbs and eclipses all feeling. I have to purposefully create a place for happiness to exist.
So how do you plan for happiness?
Catherine L. Greco and author of Me-Cation, a Paper Hope blog post, talks about setting time aside for herself. She plans outings to her favorite restaurants or to see a movie she been waiting to see. She also suggests booking a weekend away or staying in and doing nothing.
The idea is to schedule things that have the potential to bring you delight. Where delight appears, happiness is sure to follow.
I like to take time off from work and do nothing. I allow my days to be filled or not to be filled. I also focus on things during my day that are funny or that lift my mood. If I am especially anxious I may write a ‘damn-it’ list that contains all the things that cause me to exclaim ‘damn-it’ – or worse. Onces the list is created I feel a small opening that resembles relief. I will take it, space is space.
Hold space in your awareness for happiness to present to you. Make plans that have the potential to bring happiness along. Bring daily awareness to the tiny things and moments that are primers to happiness. Creating moments of delight vs expecting one specific moment of happiness to be sustained is much more aligned with how humans function.
Give it a try. See if your happiness flow increases.