The Happiness Delusion

Happiness: it’s the universal goal isn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want some of that action? It’s certainly a lot more enjoyable than say, misery. As emotions go, misery is definitely closer to the crap end of the enjoyment scale.

Happiness is such an interesting emotion because it seems to live in different places for different people. For some people, lying on the ground with a puppy might be nirvana while for someone else, it will be a stress-inducing nightmare. Which tells us that happiness is not so much about the experience, event or situation (itself) as it is our interpretation of, relationship with, beliefs about or feelings regarding, what’s happening.

Interestingly, happiness can also live in different places for the same person at different stages of their journey. There was a time when I was happy training people on the gym floor for twelve hours a day; these days, not so much. At all. The dumbbells and barbells haven’t changed but my relationship with them has.

Based on this, we might hypothesise that happiness is not so much ‘produced or created’ by anything in our external world as much as it is the dialogue, beliefs, fears, values, likes and dislikes of our internal world. That is, our internal response to our external reality. Or, if we wanted to be more philosophical, we might say… the stories we tell ourselves about our life.

When we look past all the typical goals that people often set for themselves (appearance, weight, money, career, status, property, assets, travel), the common thing that seems to drive us all is the underlying belief that somehow, the achievement of those goals will provide us with the one thing we’re really chasing; happiness. For most of us, the goal behind the goal is simple:

“I want to be happy.”

After all, if we didn’t think those things would make us happier on some level then why on earth would we be so desperate to have, own, earn and create them? We wouldn’t. Nobody spends eight years earning a PhD. in the hope that the reward for all their effort will be misery and mediocrity.

Rightly or wrongly, many of us have bought into the “some stuff is good, more stuff is better and the most stuff is best” mindset. For some people, the saying “he who dies with the most toys wins” is more a reflection of their belief system and values, than it is some kind of humorous bumper sticker.

So, is it true?
Can stuff really make us happy?

Well, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, it can make us happy to a point. Of course, it’s nice to have food, shelter, transport, a job and maybe a few toys but no, there doesn’t appear to be a positive correlation between our stuff and our level of happiness beyond a certain point.

If there was, then the guy with two houses would automatically be twice as happy as the guy with one. And the girl with ten houses, well, she’d be frickin’ delirious twenty-four-seven. Naturally, the girl who earns 300K a year would be six times happier than the guy who earns 50K and it goes without saying that the girl who loses twenty kilos would be twice as happy as her twin sister who only loses ten. Obviously. And don’t forget the guy with the twin turbo Porsche which has thirty percent more power than his previous non-turbo model. Since swapping one for the other, he’s now thirty percent happier.

For most of us residing in first world comfort, the key to our happiness has a little to do with our external reality and a lot to do with the stories we tell ourselves about that reality. As I’ve said many times on this blog, we exist, operate and interact in a three-dimensional physical world but where we do most of our living is in that space between our ears. :)

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

vincent July 3, 2013 at 8:45 pm

yes so true if you can train your mind to have a positive outlook you will be happy no matter what the circumstances are

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Anon July 3, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Great stuff Craig!!! Masterfully put!!! I Must remember internal dialogue. Not really interested in material things. Just the basics. When I do buy something, the excitement doesn’t last long.

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Brian July 4, 2013 at 6:42 am

Gratitude is a good start to genuine happiness.
Being sincerely grateful for what we already have is therapeutic and can spur us on to enhance our lives..

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TrishB July 4, 2013 at 9:03 am

I was thinking about this very subject last night when I heard a news report about 2 people each winning $25 million in Lotto. Apparently they had planned round the world trips, big cars, fancy houses etc, etc.
In another life I had all of those things and was miserable. Now I have a loving relationship, a job that I really enjoy and find very stimulating, and enough money to cover the basics, but which doesn’t stretch to overseas travel and all the other things lottery hopefuls seem to crave. Amazingly, I’ve never been happier!
I constantly count my blessings, because, as your post suggests, attitude is everything where happiness is concerned.

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Serg July 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Most people can’t live happily in their environment, so they live in delusions. Religion and personal development companies are all too eager to create those delusions for us.

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Kevin July 4, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Another SUPERBLY crafted message to us all, I will be sharing this with my friends, so many are unhappy, have so much, and want more, and then believe they will be happy!! Such a waste of time and energy! LIVE!!!

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agm July 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm

The aim is ‘fulfillment’ and ‘contentment’, happiness is a most short- lived state. Think about your personal feelings as your sports team wins or you personally win. The happiness is immediate, as an end result or the outcome of some accumulated wins and good performances, you will feel fulfilled and content with who you are and what you have done.
Good luck to all bloggers as you seek and find your contentment.

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Evan July 4, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I think you move from stuff to other things that are more relevant.

Work that I find meaningful may be utterly futile to someone else (eg writing blog posts only read by a few dozen people) but meaningful work will have a big influence on most people’s happiness I guess.

It isn’t only the stories we tell. I do think there are some things that are quite important to us – and that the relation between these and our environment makes a difference to our happiness.

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Anonymous July 4, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Coincidentally, in the book I’ve just been reading: “We must constantly ask ourselves if what we are doing is going to make us, and those around us, happy. Because happiness is the ultimate goal. It is the goal of all other goals. When we seek money, or a good relationship, or a great job, what we are really seeking is happiness. The mistake we make is not going for happiness first. If we did, everything else would follow.”

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Desiree July 4, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Indeed we do – live in that space between our ears! But, maybe that has to do with our own level of consciousness about things, either physically or metaphysically, & as that evolves (hopefully) – so do the connections we make within ourselves & with others. Sometimes, as that happens, it manifests itself as boredom, like shedding a shell or skin. There is a need to interact on a more real level, rather than just physical? For me – happiness – is really about being able – to be, connected to me on all levels, & connecting unconditionally, – to my world & those in it. My feeling about 3 dimensional materiality — is that it is part of the VEHICLE, or the Framework, – as is the human body, to be utilised, appreciated & to ultimately aid you in attaining that “Intrinsic You”, whatever that may be. Can U take it all with U? No,- but what U do take with U – are the “Real Connections” U make – in Your time, in this Big Old School called Earth, it is the LOVE (not just the romantic kind) that stays in tact, – when U Pass. How does that song go – by Karise Eden, “Nothing’s Real But Love”!

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chebbieanne July 5, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Happy is indeed a misunderstood emotion – you cannot buy it, earn it, sell it or get it from some one else but you can be it. You can nurture it and enjoy it but you can also stifle it and kill it. You cannot see it, or touch it or smell it but you can feel it and taste it and when you feel it others can see it in you. I often think of it as the age old quest to find the end of the rainbow whilst forgetting to enjoy the rainbow for what it is -not what lies beyond it. You can have it when you have nothing else and yet it is often missing when you have everything else. Happiness is not just a state of mind but a state of being. Today I am very happy for no other reason than that I am alive and that is enough. :)

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Diana July 6, 2013 at 6:30 pm

touché !

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Kelly July 10, 2013 at 11:41 am

Whether they warm up our feel good places or not, you have some really good points here that deserve consideration by each and everyone of us. It can be hard to believe sometimes, but in the end, it really is the little things that matter the most, have the most impact, fill our memories. Great blog. I very much enjoyed reading it.

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