It’s not that far fetched or much of a generalisation to understand that most people believe that getting more stuff and more success will result in more happiness.
You may have read or heard me talk before about incremental goals and the achievement of each one resulting in a release of dopamine in your brain, the feel-good chemical. This, therefore making the journey more important than the end target with regards to contributing to your happiness. This article will go a little deeper into this topic of achieving happiness but from a slightly different perspective.
Let me begin with a man in 1738 called Daniel Bernoulli, a Swiss mathematician. He stated a theory that,
“The utility resulting from any small increase in wealth will be inversely proportional to the quantity of goods previously possessed”
Possibly a little technical and ‘wordy’ for some and this is why in 1930 this theory was made slightly easier to understand and popular via metaphor presented by a Russian Mathematician Sergei Bernstein,
“Think of your wealth as a pile of bricks, with large bricks at the foundation and with the bricks growing smaller and smaller as the height increases. Any brick you add to the top of the pile will be smaller than the brick beneath it. The satisfaction that results from gaining a brick is smaller than the hurt that results from losing a brick.
I’d like to bring this further-more into the present day by sharing that what they are saying is basically the second “Like on Linkedin” is never as satisfying as the first one, and the 10th Like even less so, and the 100th Like even less so and so on and so on.
You can see this play out with social-media Influencers accounts as this is magnified. On some platforms after 10,000 Likes, an extra 100 Likes will not even appear as the number count is rounded up to the nearest 1000. The social media platform providers fully understand that the job, providing pleasure, has already been achieved for the person posting. There is almost meaningless benefit to show them 100 or 1000 more because this number of additional Likes will give very little additional pleasure to the person that posted. What is there intent behind this? What does this encourage? Yes, you probably guessed, it encourages the person to start the process once again, write new content, post again and get that first Like again.
This example aside, it is interesting how unconsciously we casually use the words ‘pleasure’, and ‘happy’ interchangeably. The fact is they are two very different things.
Due to survival instincts, it is human nature to want pleasure, it’s a reward mechanism to know we are doing the right thing to survive. It is also human nature to remember the pleasure received from the impact of an initial event; sometimes labeled this as the thrill or satisfaction, believing that this pursuit of this will make us happier.
What you may now be beginning to realise is that doing more of that ‘thing’ that provided pleasure before, will most probably provide you with more pleasure, albeit a every time repeated a little less than last time. The most important thing to notice here though is that you are on the pursuit of pleasure NOT happiness.
With a little observation what quickly becomes apparent is that people often mislabeled ‘pleasure’ as ‘happy’ in common language, further reinforced and generalised due to the understanding that the pleasure makes us feel good. This pursuit of pleasure however can unfortunately morph into debilitating habits and destructive addictions which ultimately, and obviously, will not make you happy either!
In addition to this particular mislabeling of happiness, we are also programmed to look at status in our community for survival. These days this commonly shows as us comparing others to others. Yet again, due to the nature of the internet and social media, these comparisons are now much broader and to a higher volume of people than our original historic community or tribe size. It turns out when you compare yourself to the entire world, someone always seems to have more (and that is without mentioning most people inflate the achievement you are comparing yourself to!) so, you inevitably find yourself deficient. This results in the thoughts and feelings of thinking your goals must give your more in order to be happy.
We must change the perspective and context to this equation for comparing ourselves. Firstly inwards, yes, some people will have more, but are you doing your best at trying to be better today than yesterday? Then some further perspective realising the majority of the people that are not broadcasting on the internet would consider your ‘nightmare situation’, their dream! This is even more important and poignant for the generation that now exists that can’t remember life without social media let alone the internet.
As the old Chinese gratitude proverb says,
“I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
To bring that to modern times maybe replace shoes with ‘latest Yeezy trainers’ – you get the point! Focusing on gratitude via context and perspective forces you to be aware of the present, the NOW, not the regrets of the past or fears of the future. It is only with this perspective and focus that you have the opportunity for happiness.
If we move our attention quickly to the achieving goals, this again is where common mislabeling can take place. We are often told and think that achieving the big ‘end-goal’ will provide happiness. However, much like before, what this in fact is, is the pursuit of ‘success’ NOT happiness! Again, two different things.
Success is yet again the result of getting ‘more’ of what you want, it is again the art of collecting a thing. The bridge between success and happiness is a focus on fulfilment. A goal that offers fulfilment can only be done so when there is gratitude towards your personal values and some kind of purpose baked into the achievement.
This arrives us at a simple sentence to explain happiness.
“Happiness can only truly be gained through being grateful for what you have and having gratitude to the achievement that results in a personally fulfilled contribution to others.”
To end this article, I’ll leave you with three questions inspired by Keith Cunningham, one of my favourite authors and mentors-from-afar. He is master of asking the right questions that cut to the chase.
1. Is the world a better place because of me?
2. Who loved me and who did I love?
3. Did I live the ultimate definition of integrity – within my beliefs and values?
I am grateful you chose to invest your time reading my article.
If you enjoyed this or found any value all I ask is that you like or share this with someone that will benefit from the content…
Oh and… take time to get clarity and understand what you are pursuing today; Pleasure, Success or Happiness?