I spend a lot of time reading, thinking, and writing about happiness.
For years before I started writing here, I was just looking for ways to improve my own life. I wanted to understand why people who seemed like they had everything were still unhappy.
I wanted to find the traps that others fell into so that I could avoid them.
It is quite clear to me at this point that most people are not as happy as they could be.
And I believe that the main culprit is mistaking comfort for happiness.
Work vs. TV
We have to go to work.
Working is something that everyone has to do and most people dislike. We spend all day at work and then we get to reward ourselves by coming home and watching some television.
If you ask someone whether they would prefer to be at work or to be at home watching TV, they would laugh at you. Obviously everyone prefers television to their job.
The problem is that studies have found we’re all wrong.
One example is a study by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that interrupted people during the day and had them write down what they were doing and how they were feeling. The study found that we’re happier at work than we are at home watching television.
We favor television because it is comfortable.
But comfort is not happiness.
Fight Your Instincts
People are happy when they are overcoming challenges.
This is true whether we are at work, playing a video game, practicing a musical instrument, or any number of other endeavors.
We are happy when we are achieving. We are happy when we are growing. We are happy when we are improving.
But these are not the things for which we naturally strive. Our instincts actually push us away from difficult things.
After millions of years of evolution, our bodies and minds don’t want us to waste our energy doing something just to be happy when we might have to fight a saber-toothed tiger later.
Our instincts push us towards the comfortable.
We need to remind ourselves that comfort is not happiness.
Spending Money on Comfort
The reminder that comfort and happiness are not the same can also be applied to hedonic adaptation.
The nicer car may be more comfortable, but it won’t make you happier.
The bigger house with the modern finishes is a lot more comfortable, but studies show that after a short injection of happiness you will lose out there, too.
There is obviously a difference between spending your time on comfort and spending your money on comfort. I would argue that both harm your happiness to an extent.
Spending your time on comfort is more directly harmful to your happiness. Spending a Saturday watching television means that you aren’t using that time writing a novel, planting a garden, or any other achievement-oriented work. All of these activities would make you happier.
Spending your money on comfort is more about the opportunity cost. Buying a Camry is not going to make you happier than buying a Maserati. Sorry.
But the money you save could be spent on something that would make you happier.
Comfort is Not Happiness
If we want to live happier lives, the first thing we need to recognize is that comfort is not happiness.
While our instincts will push us towards the path of least resistance, we need to fight back.
We need to recognize that challenge is happiness. Growth is happiness. Achievement is happiness. Improvement is happiness.
Comfort is not happiness.