Stop Hoping for Happiness Tomorrow

Instead, use one of these 5 techniques to create it today.

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Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

The pursuit of happiness is without a doubt one of the greatest drivers in our lives.

Doesn’t the promise of future happiness get you out of bed in the morning? Doesn’t it help you get to school or work or wherever you might be going?

And, don’t we so frequently fantasize about the future because it’s only there that we will finally have all the things that will make us happy? Like a university degree, moving out of our parent’s basement, a promotion, the perfect partner, a sexy car?

The thing is, we’ve been here before. We’ve already pursued and attained other things we thought would bring us lasting happiness. And now, here we are again, chasing happiness.

The problem with pursuing happiness through the attainment of andis that happiness itself will almost always remain just over the horizon. Just out of reach.

If you spend your entire life chasing after happiness and never getting there, is that a life well lived?

But if we shouldn’t be pursuing happiness, what should we be doing?

Happiness is fleeting

As an emotion, happiness is fleeting. As much as you’d like to imagine you have control over it, that’s not really the case.

When you attain something, like a promotion or a university degree, does the happiness linger indefinitely? Or does it eventually slip away, despite your best efforts?

Think about your past. You know from experience that the excitement and happiness inherent in new things never last. Eventually, the elation due to your graduation or promotion runs out. Eventually, your excitement for your new partner fades away.

In short, we habituate to our life situation. We get used to it. It gets old. Mundane. Nothing special.

Studies have shown that habituation occurs for nearly all life events, such as career advancement, money, and marriage. After a brief spike of happiness, we inevitably return to the same baseline level of happiness we had before the event took place.

So, we chase after the things we think will make us happier, but when we get them and they don’t give us any lasting increase in happiness, we begin the chase all over again. In our dissatisfaction, we seek more and more, hoping that the next thing will bring us the happiness we’ve been seeking.

Unfortunately, it never does.

Psychologists call this cycle the hedonic treadmill. It’s the constant need for more out of dissatisfaction with the present.

The question is, do we dare to step off the treadmill?

Torn between worlds

We’re often caught between two worlds.

The first is the world that society pushes upon us. Prestige, fame, money, jewelry, sports cars, private jets, exotic vacations.

The second is the world that we yearn for. Love, safety, family, community, fulfillment, peace.

It’s easy to get caught up in the first world. Everyone is chasing those things and it can feel wrong not to chase them, too. We feel not good enough if our friends have bigger houses than we do, if they’re making more money than we are, if they’ve accomplished more than we have.

Of course, we know it’s pointless to compare, and that the comparison only results in our misery. But we do it anyway.

And isn’t there a part of us that’s drawn to this perspective? Isn’t there a part of us that thinks if we’re not constantly looking for more, for bigger, for better, then we’re settling for ? Doesn’t it feel like if we aren’t constantly chasing after the next big thing then we’ve stopped growing, we’ve given up on our potential, we’ve stagnated?

It’s these thoughts and emotions that I think make us hate the second world, where fulfillment and peace are possible. We can’t imagine a world where we appreciate what we have, while still being motivated to better our situation. We can’t imagine anything but self-hatred, dissatisfaction, and disappointment driving us to be better.

What if we’re wrong?

Stepping off the treadmill

It turns out that happier people are more productive and successful than people who are not.

And, in a surprising twist, their happiness preceded their success — it didn’t follow from it (see written by Shawn Achor).

So, what does this tell us? It tells us that generally how we approach the obstacles and goals in our lives is backward.

Instead of anticipating happiness in the future, instead of convincing ourselves that the next big thing will make us happy, we need to .

Create happiness? Is that even possible?

If we could “create” happiness, wouldn’t we all be doing it, constantly?

It turns out, no, we wouldn’t.

Remember that baseline level of happiness I mentioned earlier? The one that rarely moves due to life events? Well, it turns out that you can move it, it just takes very specific kinds of work.

Below are 5 things you can do to raise your happiness baseline:

#1 Be Grateful

Gratefulness is often overlooked as something that will bring us happiness. Yet, study after study has shown that if you spend a couple of minutes a day focusing on things you are grateful for and why, you will become happier.

#2 Be Selfless

Giving time, money, and things away to others is a proven method of increasing your overall level of well-being. Humans are programmed to feel good about themselves when they are generous, helpful, and altruistic. So, for no good reason, give something up for someone else today.

#3 Be Mindful

Mindfulness and meditation have been gaining a lot of traction in recent years. This is because there is tons of exciting research showing they can have a powerful impact on your state of mind, including your happiness. Take a couple of minutes each day to focus on your breathing. Watch your in- and out-breaths as closely as you can. When your mind wanders (and it will!), gently bring your attention back to your breath without judgment.

#4 Be Accepting

Life is crazy. Sometimes it goes the way we want it to, but often it doesn’t. How we internalize these events is important to our happiness. If we accept that much of life is , we can release ourselves from some of the guilt, shame, and embarrassment that plague our lives. But, critically, doesn’t mean , , or . Rather, it is a mindset of accepting the present conditions as they are, and moving forward given those conditions.

So, the next time the present moment is unacceptable to you — your lawnmower breaks down, your spouse is irritable, or you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic — try to accept the situation as it is rather than fight it. After all, there is literally nothing you can do to change the present moment.

#5 Be Connected

We are social creatures. We care about connecting with others and it brings us happiness to foster those connections. Intentionally reach out to others, whether at work or home, and develop those relationships. Genuine and open relationships with others can foster lasting happiness.

Will you create happiness today?

As backward as it sounds, you have everything you need to bring more happiness, peace, and contentment into your life.

However, and I can’t stress this enough, your happiness will not demotivate you. It will do the opposite. It will give you the energy and passion to take on the world like never before.

So try one of the five techniques discussed above. You won’t regret it.

Written by

Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about science, meditation, and spirituality.

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