It’s All About Optimizing Happiness

The vast majority of decisions that we make are made, whether consciously or subconsciously, because we think that they will make us happier.

We end a relationship because we think there is someone out there that will make us happier or we start a new relationship because we think it will bring the happiness that we have been missing. We take the higher paying new job so that we can buy more things and experiences that make us happy. Or maybe to pay others to do things that make us unhappy, like cleaning the house or mowing the lawn.

In fact, while we will spend a good deal of time talking about happiness, even the non-happiness topics that we explore here will have an end goal of increased happiness.

We will learn about saving and investing so that we can have more money to spend on things and experiences that will make us happy and so that we will have less stress when an emergency hits. We will learn about financial independence so that we will have the freedom to choose work that is fulfilling and makes us happy instead of just providing a paycheck. We will learn about increasing our productivity so that we can achieve more, gaining joy and pride in our accomplishments.

Okay, so everyone is looking for happiness. That’s pretty obvious by now. Do we really need lessons on how to be happier?

Well…yes.

According to Census reports, Americans are less happy today than they were in 1940. This, as Sonja Lyubomirsky points out in her book The How of Happiness, despite the fact that we make double the money (after adjusting for inflation) and have “microwave ovens, dishwashers, color TVs, DVD players, iPods, and personal computers” in our much larger houses equipped with central air.

We’ve got all sorts of new luxuries and additional disposable income to use, but we are less happy. So what gives?

One major problem is that humans are incredibly bad at knowing what will make us happy. This makes sense when viewed from an evolutionary standpoint. We were designed to survive as a species rather than to be happy as individuals, so our instincts will generally be great for survival purposes, but not necessarily ideal for maximizing happiness.

We can fix this! It will take a bit of work, though. We will read and review studies done in fields like positive psychology and learn what actually makes us happier. We can also share and discuss our own personal experiences and discoveries with regards to finding happiness. (I would like to make liberal use of the comments sections of these articles for ongoing discussions).

In short, we can learn when and how to override our instincts in order to optimize our happiness.

Plus, learning how to be happier has benefits beyond just being happier. Being happier will lead us to be more likely to “have fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health, and a long life,” which will, in turn, make us even happier.

Seems worth a bit of research to me.

4 thoughts on “It’s All About Optimizing Happiness”

  1. I have a small bone to pick when comparing happiness to the 1940s. Sure, we have all of these amenities that those in the past didn’t…but we don’t see them as amenities, we see them as necessities. I grew up needing a microwave. I don’t know life without that microwave. It is, in my mind, necessary. The same goes for cable, internet, mobile phones, TVs, and (my personal savior), central air. I haven’t lived in a time where these things were not prevalent (smart phones being the exception) – so I may be making double the money but I “need” double the things. If we see these “amenities” as “necessities”, all of a sudden our disposable income shrinks a whole lot.

    Basically, I agree that this change of mindset will need a lot of work, and I’m looking forward to reading more on how to fix it!

    1. Exactly true. And I will be the first to admit that I cannot picture living without Internet access for the rest of my life.

      We get used to having these things in our life and through a tendency known as hedonic adaptation (which will get its own articles) we incorporate them into our lives and stop deriving happiness boosts from them. We will look at how to fight hedonic adaptation and where else to focus resources to get the best happiness bang for your buck in future articles, but the main point I was going for here is that our tendency towards buying more and better stuff is not making us happier.

  2. Interesting post Matt. Unlike you,I can’t picture being without Internet access even for a week! I am not even a Millenial, so go figure. All these conveniences, after you get used to them, become necessities.

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