You can be just as happy by baking warm cookies as you could when becoming the wealthiest person in the world. And in fact, it’s quite likely that becoming the wealthiest person in the world would not bring you more happiness than an excited child can feel. I’m not saying that becoming very rich is unlikely to boost your mood if you’re currently poor; I’m saying that multiple sources of happiness can be sought beyond the typically accepted ways that first come to mind (such as having a kid, being wealthy, buying something, getting into a relationship with someone you like, etc.)
So you’re telling me that instead of pursuing riches, I should buy a pizza because it’s easier and it’s the same level of happiness?
Not exactly. Pizza is also temporary, as is food in general, but it is, indeed, a thing that you can have every once in a while to improve your mood (if you can afford it). Pizza is not the only meal that can make you happy (no way, really?). Life is full of little things that, when added together, can make for a happy life. In fact, who’s to say that you have to be in utter bliss all the time? Or that the level of happiness you get must be the one that an excited child can feel?
The thing is that many people forget to optimise their emotions. Pay attention to your day-to-day activities, to your every moment in life, and you will see that many things you do are very much against your self-interest, and there is no reason at all to continue doing them. And in that same line, there are many things that you could do with your time that would improve your general mood, but there is always something that stops you.
How you lie to yourself
I’ve had long conversations with friends who seek a great future satisfaction for which they must sacrifice so much. “I must work on this boring job 6 days a week, 9 hours a day for 5 years in order to save enough to buy a house and have a comfortable place to live in (in 5 years)”, or “I must suffer this week and risk becoming sick so that I will be debt-free to the state”. Sometimes, people don’t even ask themselves why exactly they must do the thing they believe themselves tied to.
Clearly, I’m not saying that no one is tied to anything, or that some people are not obliged to make hard choices and sacrifices in their life. However, the way I see it, most people around me (as in, above 60%) have a misconstrued reality of what they really owe the world. And more often than not, these people are the unhappiest around me.
A concrete example
I have a friend who, for two years, was physically abused by a boyfriend she had. For such a long time, every day, she didn’t leave due to a set of feelings: the promise of future happiness and a sense of duty to herself and to him.
- The promise of future happiness: “I saw something in him, I will feel it again, I know I will, I just have to wait, sometimes I glimpse it. When I think about it, he's really worth it.”
- A sense of duty to herself: “Relationships are a must in life. You’re more likely to be happier, to live a longer life, to be healthy, I’ve seen it and read about it! I will be happy someday, and I can’t take that away from myself just because I can’t stand his behaviour. In fact, he’s right, I must improve my behaviour, and then he’ll be nicer!”
- A sense of duty to him: “I took him in, I let him in, I can’t just kick him out because I’m emotional. I have to give him a chance. I owe him
<insert social norm>.”
My own case
There are countless things like this in life. I’ve worked jobs I thought I had to do because I had accepted.
“I signed a verbal contract, so I was obligated to work for little pay for someone who made me physically sick!”
“We live close-by, so we are friends, so I owe him my unquestioning help and resources!”.
And worst of all,
“I’ve talked to him, so we’re already tied, and it would be impolite and relationship-breaking to deny him this favour this once (and this once, and that once, and those infinite onces)”.
Once I realised how little I owe to the world, to the people around me, and even to myself (because I had, as I said, a misrepresentation of the world in my head where things just were like that because I’d known them to be, not because I’d reasoned it), I became much happier. And to date, I have been very happy for, I’d say, almost a year with few interruptions due to real needs. Yes, I’m seen as less reliable by some people, but does it matter? Does it matter if I make people angry at my mere existence? Does it matter if people are disappointed by me? I have the right to disappear, and you do too, and we can exercise it decisively whenever it would be in our best interest. :) We don’t owe anyone any explanations to pursue our happiness.