Do you remember the first time you got your mobile phone? Do you remember being all excited about the first time you held them? I know it sounds like me asking you about holding a child for the first time or something. But yeah, do you? Also, do you remember the time when you and all your friends were gathered around talking about the most random and stupidest stuff and laughing at some lame jokes?
Now that you have tried remembering both the events, which one made you smile a little longer? Which one made you feel more the way you felt when that event happened?
I am no psychologist nor am I proficient enough on anything to guess your answers. Nevertheless, I speak for myself when I say that remembering the conversations I had with my friends over a bottle of Coke or a box of pizza made me smile a little longer. In fact, every time I think about it, especially during this social-distancing period, I long to have those pointless conversations again (not over FaceTime though).
Despite so, it’s not like I didn’t get excited when I first got my phone. And I got excited every time I changed it to something better. And I still crave the latest version of the iPhone that comes out. But the question is, how long does that initial feeling of extreme contentment over a mobile phone last? For me, the feeling doesn’t stay the same over time but when I remember the trip I took with my friends the feeling is almost as identical as I felt at that particular time.
You see, when we talk about happiness, there are a lot of things that produce that feeling. Statistically speaking, happiness researchers have found that 50% of our happiness is genetically determined, 10% of it is contributed by a change in life circumstances which also includes all the material possessions and the rest 40% is easier to achieve and ours for the taking.
The first 50% is hence out of our control. It is said that some of us are naturally happier than others, but everyone can work to rise above their set point and make themselves happier. The last 40% is what many life coaches, yogis, and a lot of other people tend to focus on. It basically involves everything other than your genetics and material possessions. I would love to talk about those some other time.
But today, I will be focusing on the 10% of what determines our happiness. Like mentioned earlier, this percentage of our happiness is determined by change in our life circumstances. It could be as extreme as changing the city we live in to as small as changing our phone cover. The bigger the change the longer the feeling of contentment lasts. But no matter what it doesn’t last as long as we initially thought.
We generally form an opinion about how something is going to make us feel when we make decisions involving life circumstances. We get into a relationship thinking it will make us feel content. We buy the latest videogame thinking that’s going to make us happy. No matter what we decide, be it big or small, we base it on some sort of prediction about how that will make us feel. This process is termed as affective forecasting by researchers.
Several problems pervade this process. The first one is termed impact bias. This is when we predict future feelings, we overemphasize the impact that a single event will have on us, and underestimate the impact of other things that are going on in our lives. I mean, a win of your favorite team didn’t really help you survive the whole semester without breakdowns, did it?
The second is called hedonic adaptation. We tend to forget that many events lose their emotional impact with time. This is the reason I asked you the question at the very beginning. If you think about it, as time passed by, the excitement of getting your first phone died down. And this happens with every other thing you own or have, be it your phone or living in the city of your dreams.
The third is comparison. Seeing that someone else bought a better car than you would make you distressed and envious rather than happy. And being a human being it’s a common occurrence that we compare our material possessions with others.
I mean, like they say crying in a BMW must be more comfortable than having to cry while walking down the street. But the thing is, the comfort and contentment provided by the BMW aren’t long-lasting. So, it’s not just material possessions that we need to run after or changing our life circumstances. The other 90% is what truly deserves our attention if happiness is what we are running after as the ultimate goal.
The pursuit of happiness is very much real so we need to know where to exactly direct our efforts. Well, stay happy y’all!