Surprising Thoughts On What Makes Us Unhappy

I’m a big believer in open and honest exchange of information. I’m a big believer in total transparency and I always encourage others to experience as many new and unique things as possible to broaden their horizons and become better leaders and better human beings. I do this because I believe that only by following these principles you can lead by example and only these principles give you the credibility in the eyes of others. However, they will not make you happy. In fact, once you get on the path of constant learning and exploration you are getting into a vicious cycle of unfulfilled dreams and you need to work hard to bring a piece of happiness back to your life… unless you find solace in the journey itself.

Experiencing more

Experiencing new things and broadening our horizons is making us more educated, more perceptive to other cultures and way of lives but also more aware of what we have and what we are missing. Imagine you live your whole live in a small village in the middle of your country. You never get out and know nothing about the outside world. Your village is your world. You have your family, you have your farm and you have a happy life. Then one day a visitor comes and brings you pictures of ocean and beautiful islands. He just killed your happiness. Suddenly you feel that you want to go there, you are not satisfied with your life anymore and you feel like missing on something. And this happens to us every single day in one form or another. The more global the society, the more we watch TV, the more we travel, the more we see what are all the things that we are missing in our lives, and chances are we feel more miserable. And what happens when you get to the island one day?

I still remember the very first time I saw ocean. Being from center of Europe it was a very powerful and exciting experience. I was sitting for several hours on the shore just looking at the water. Unfortunately, then I walked along the shore to school every single day for half a year and now ocean is just an ocean and I will never experience that sort of happiness I felt when seeing it for the first time. I just pushed the bar of what makes me happy a bit higher so next time I needed to add sunset and beer to get the same level of happiness. As Daniel Gilbert said in his book Stumbling on Happiness: “Once we have an experience, we are thereafter unable to see the world as we did before.”

Having more information

I’m big into sharing information, but is having more information actually helps us to be more happy? Not really. In fact, it is not helpful at all. Let’s look at this situation. You are thinking about getting a new car. You start researching different models and collect a huge amount of information. And now you are sitting in your living room and trying to compare all the data and imagine how it would feel to drive that car in the future. Your brain picks a favorite (let’s say mustang convertible) and starts imagining how incredible it will be to drive that car. Then the day comes, you buy the car and drive it for a week. Suddenly all the small things are starting to pop up. It was raining the whole week so you couldn’t enjoy the no-roof experience, it feels quite bulky, the clutch feels weird. In the information overload your brain simply didn’t think about these daily aspects. It is still a fine car, but it doesn’t feel that great as you imagined based on the information you gathered.

Luckily, as I mentioned in this article your brain has an auto response system that will shield your feelings from anything negative so you will still feel ok. Numerous studies has shown that if you don’t supply your brain with enough information to imagine and instead provide it with experiences by people who are experiencing your future right now, it gets much better prediction on how you will actually feel. In our case, if instead of trying to imagine how great it would be driving your mustang convertible in the countryside you just went and asked someone who owns the car how does it feel today he would probably point out that it is raining often and once you try the free ride for once or twice it gets boring.

Deciding more

We all want to control our lives. It is one of the basic human desires to control our own destiny. The moment someone else starts controlling it we feel helpless and unhappy. That is the reason why we struggle so much for control, why we value freedom, why we want to decide everything even if the outcome will be worse than if we let someone else decide instead of us. The fact that we can decide just feels really good. Unfortunately, the price we pay is often pretty big. We all want to be in control because we believe that we can do better job of guiding our lives in the right direction than the next person would. Curiously enough, it is very rarely the case. Our mind is imagining future that is very different from the actual future.

Did it ever happen to you that you really wanted the next promotion or a new car or a purse and you imagined how great it will be and how different your life becomes? And then you got promoted, got the car or the purse and nothing really changed? What I experienced in professional environment is people saying things like “Yes, I’m busy this month, but once I finish the current project things will be different and I will have more time.” You are in control, you are doing what you are doing on purpose with a vision of better future. Well, guess what, that future will never come. In a month’s time the current task will be finished but other tasks will pop up and things will not feel the way we believe today that they will feel. Maybe if you listened to your boss or a spouse who is urging you to slow down today the final outcome could be much better and you would be happier… even though someone would make the decision for you.

So even if all those things are working in our disadvantage and are making it more difficult to be happy should we just sit in our homes, never go out, never learn and never try to decide anything? No! Just trick your brain into finding happiness in the process of learning and seeing more and not in the final results. The rest will follow automatically. As I wrote in “Human brain, the biggest liar of all times” our brain has one incredible power. A power to cook up the facts of our past memories to make us happy, power to deploy number of psychological tricks to lessen any negative experience we might have so if we let our mind delude us we can still live pretty happy lives.

Twitter type summary: “Constant learning and exploration gets you into a vicious cycle of unfulfilled dreams… unless you find solace in the journey itself.”

What makes you happy? And I mean truly happy? It is not that easy to come up with really reliable answer as your brain will be telling you all sorts of things.

Disclosure: The thoughts in this article are influenced by the ideas presented by Daniel Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness.

One thought on “Surprising Thoughts On What Makes Us Unhappy

  1. Pingback: Holiday Special – The Best Posts Of 2014 | The Geeky Leader

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