It’s been put forward by the great scholars of our time in positive psychology that the ultimate currency of life is ‘happiness’.
What does it mean to be happy?
The term ‘happiness’ in this context isn’t the two dimensional word you might think of to simply describe a child given a lollipop. The broader definition would include this type of emotional state but also goes much deeper. While the harvard scholars use a broad definition of ‘happiness’ I personally find ‘fulfillment’ a term easier to digest. I’ll use the terms interchangeably in this post and consider their meaning to include all positive emotions and states like Love, Pride, Peace, Hope, Joy, Gratitude, Awe, Inspiration etc.
So what about the bling right? You might be thinking that these new age hippies need to get with the program. Show me the money! Well 15 years of scientific research in the field of ‘positive psychology’ has shown what many who have acquired some bling apparently already knew – the bling has no zing.
Anecdotally I think we all had a suspicion that this was the case. Didn’t we? If material wealth was the big prize and the key to fulfillment, then why are so many wealthy people suffering from depression? Some commit suicide, many are just unhappy. Not all by any stretch but quite possibly proportionately the same amount as those with average incomes. What about those families who live in impoverished communities around the world? We see documentaries and hear personal accounts of how happy they are. When we really step out of our conditioned beliefs and look at it, there doesn’t appear to be any correlation between people’s material wealth and their fundamental level of happiness and fulfillment.
Still think it’s all about the Benjamin’s?
Well back to the research then. It showed that each of us has our unique well being or happiness baseline. Some days we’re happier and are above that baseline experiencing positive emotions like love or pride or joy and some days we’re sad or frustrated and we’re operating below that emotional baseline… in either case a short time will pass and we’ll return to our inherent equilibrium.
Taking our baselines into account, you might find interesting the research conducted by Psychologist Philip Brickman and his team. They studied baseline happiness and well-being in people who won the lottery. They found that within as little as a single month some winners returned to their baseline level of happiness. If they were unhappy before winning sooner or not so much later that would be unhappy again. It also works the other way around. They found that accident victims who became paraplegic were returning to their baseline level of well being and happiness within as little as a year.
Truth is society sold us down the river with respect to its picture of success. You need to be rich, beautiful, preferably famous and have the latest gadgets. As a result many of us live our lives with true happiness as this elusive conditional prize. ‘One day when I have this then I’ll be happy.’ ‘One day when I get that promotion, then I’ll be happy.’ ‘One day when I’m famous, then I’ll be happy.’
So for many of us we’re heading in the totally wrong direction and could live our whole lives with our potential happiness and fulfillment attached to an outcome that may or may not ever eventuate. Fuck that.
So here’s the basic premise for why happiness and fulfillment trump C-notes and everything else as the ultimate currency in life.
Essentially it’s argued that what we really want is the emotions and states that will eventuate from having those things.
The researchers apply the big ‘Why’ test.
I want lots of money. Why? So I can travel. Why? So I can see the world. Why? Because it’ll make me happy and gives me a sense of awe.
I want to build schools in Africa. Why? So I have a sense of contribution. Why? Because I like helping people. Why? It makes me feel grateful, content and at peace.
Get the idea? Ok cool.
So the great news is, we can do a bunch of things to increase our baselines of happiness, wellbeing and overall fulfillment. So they need not be a conditional reward for some potential event in the future.
We can live with more Love, Pride, Peace, Hope, Joy, Gratitude, Awe, Inspiration right now. So in terms of what Harvard Professor Tal Ben-Shahar calls the ultimate currency of life, you can be amongst the truly wealthiest people in the world, in no time at all.
Want to know how?…Stay tuned.