One of the most common lies that people believe about happiness is that it is somewhere ‘out there.’ In other words, people think that if they just can get some external thing to happen, they will be happy. You know you have bought into this lie when you tell yourself something like this: I will be happy if/when…
- I get that job.
- I get that promotion.
- I make more money.
- I retire.
- I fall in love.
- I get married.
- I get divorced.
- I have kids.
- My kids move out.
- I lose weight.
- The Cubs win the World Series.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that the external factors of our lives don’t do a whole lot to increase our happiness over the long run. The reason is we are incredibly adaptable. When something good happens to you, or something bad happens to you, you might experience a small shift in your happiness for a short time. But the shift is usually short lived, and before long, you adapt to the change in circumstances and your happiness level returns to baseline.
Research has found this to be true even in extreme circumstances. For example, lottery winners experience a bump in happiness after winning all that money. But before long, their happiness returns to the level it was before they won the jackpot. The opposite is true as well. People who become paralyzed following an accident experience a dip in happiness following the accident, but their happiness soon returns to the level it was before the accident.
Striving hard after external things might even make you less happy, because it targets your focus on what you lack, rather than letting you appreciate the good things you have. The striving puts you into a scarcity mindset, rather than a gratitude mindset.
If you are looking for happiness ‘out there,’ you probably won’t find it. You might be better off working to become the kind of person who can create your own happiness, through engaging the world with gratitude, curiosity, and kindness.
Discussion: Do you think happiness is ‘out there’ or is happiness found within us? What do you think would need to happen for you to be happy?