It’s not what you think.
Happiness is the ultimate reward of life, yet most of us misunderstood it. Let’s find out what really makes us happy.
What would make you happy?
If I asked you that question, you’d probably state a desire.
- Having a million dollar in the bank,
- Receiving a promotion,
- Having a life partner,
Is that so? Would realizing your desires really make you happy? Let’s break this process down and analyze the effects of your desire on your happiness.
The first stage of desire is anticipation. In this stage, you become aware of a desire. You dream of how your life would be when this desire is realized. Even its thought makes you happier. You take action towards realizing your desire. The closer you get to the realization, the happier you get.
Your happiness peaks at the realization of your desire. After a few days, something strange happens. You either become familiar to your new reality or it doesn’t satisfy you as much as you anticipated. In either case, your happiness plummets quickly.
Even stranger, when you get familiar to something, it becomes your standard. When something becomes your standard, you get attached to it. Its existence doesn’t make you any happier, but the possibility of its loss scares you.
How to Maintain Happiness
If our happiness is guaranteed to plummet every time we realize a goal, how can we maintain a high level of happiness?
The happiness curve answers that question. Most of our happiness comes from our anticipation and working towards our goal. In order to maintain a high level of happiness, all we need to do is to set worthy goals and work towards them.
Boredom Zone, Panic Zone, Stretch Zone
There is a catch though. Setting a goal that is far outside of our reach makes us miserable. Setting a goal within our reach doesn’t excite us at all. The sweet spot seems to be setting goals slightly outside of our comfort zone. That way we know that we can reach the goal, but it’s still exciting.
Tal Ben-Shahar defines three zones in his book Happier. Activities or goals that are completely in our comfort zone bore us. Activities that are far outside of our comfort zone stress us. Both zones make us unhappy. We get excited and happy when we are in the stretch zone, the sweet spot between the boredom zone and the panic zone.
As you stay in your stretch zone, you get familiar to it and it becomes your boredom zone. Soon, you become unhappy again. In order to avoid that, you need to get out of it again. It’s a never ending cycle.
What makes us happy is not getting something we desire, but progress, continuous improvement, getting out of our comfort zone over and over, continuously setting new goals and working towards them. That is the secret to happiness.