our circumstances don’t dictate our happiness

our circumstances don’t dictate our happiness
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“Don’t be the person who is waiting for this, that, or the other thing to happen before she can be happy.”
“Our expectations about what our lives should be like are greater than ever before; we believe that we can do anything, and we are profoundly disappointed when reality doesn’t meet or even come close to perfection.”

― Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness

Let’s assume that you’ve been given a magic wand and you have the power to change one thing about your life when you wave it. What would that thing be? A new job, a bigger home, a perfect romantic partner, more money in your bank, or a better car? How about the intangible things — more time, power, status, beauty, or health?

It’s no surprise that a majority of us dream of these things, that some significant change in our personal circumstances that we desire constantly would make our lives much better than they currently are. We go around thinking, “If only [insert desire] would happen to me, then I would be truly happy.”

However, scientific studies reveal that these fantasies that we harbor day in and day out are just that: fantasies. Here’s an important truth to always keep at the back of our heads: Our personal circumstances have a minimal impact on our happiness — much less than we think they do. If we average out the research data from different studies, we’ll come to the conclusion that our individual circumstances account for only 10 percent of the variations in people’s levels of happiness.

Although this might seem counterintuitive, this happens all the time. A big boost of happiness after a major positive change in our circumstances is more often short-lived. But why is that? The short answer is the phenomenon of “hedonic adaptation.”

Hedonic adaptation, also known as “the hedonic treadmill,” is a concept studied by positive psychology researchers and others who focus on happiness and well-being that refers to people’s general tendency to return to a set level of happiness regardless of the ups and downs of life. Hence the word “treadmill” because you always end up where you started.

You get your dream job and you love the new job until it becomes your new normal. You buy a new car or a new house, and soon, you take it for granted. You get married, have a brief honeymoon phase, and then in a matter of a few months or years, the passion and excitement wear off.

That’s nothing but hedonic adaptation. It’s a human tendency to get back to our ground state. There is an initial influx of joy, of course, but after a certain time, we experience the same general sense of happiness in our day-to-day lives.

Now, none of the above-mentioned occurrences mean that they don’t have any positive effect on our long-term happiness. They do, but the difference is only a few percentage points on the happiness scale. Hence, it’s best for us to not assume that any positive change in our circumstances would bring us tons of happiness in the long run. It just won’t!

So, whether it be winning the lottery, gaining a salary hike, buying a new car or a house, or even getting married, it’ll be wise on our part to understand that the impact of these “life-changing” events on our happiness would be trivial and insignificant.