The pursuit of happiness (and how to be truly happy)

The pursuit of happiness (and how to be truly happy)

We were born with the instinct to find meaning and purpose in our lives and this search for emotional well-being and stability in our lives becomes more and more pressing year after year.

In the past 45 years alone, suicide rates around the world have increases 60% and some 350 million people around the world suffer from some form of depression. Is it really that hard to be happy? Or are we all looking for the wrong places?

Consider this: whenever we get recognition, fulfillment, material possession, etc. which are supposed to be the things that can make us happier, it wouldn’t be long before our satisfaction fades and we set new goals to achieve in our lives. This in psychology is known as treadmill of happiness.

We work hard in the hopes of leading happier lives, but only to realize that we are still in one place on the treadmill. To be truly happy, we have to know how to get off that treadmill.

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Hedonic treadmill or adaptation theory

Invented by Brickman and Campbell in 1971, this theory suggests that people quickly adapt to life’s circumstances and eventually return to their baseline level of happiness.

In one study By Brickman, the happiness levels of lottery winners and crippled accident victims are no different from those of the general population after some time after the event.

the the treadmill actually acts as a set point for our level of happiness. Whatever we encounter or experience in life, after a brief moment of happiness or sadness, our emotions will return to baseline.


While this protects us from being overwhelmed through negative events and getting stuck in depression mode is also the reason why we will not be able to be happy forever.

Our initial happiness and excitement will wear off, and we go looking for the next opportunity that we believe will make us happy again.

Prepare to be happy

the Easterlin paradox (proposed by economist Richard Easterlin in 1974) revealed that people in richer countries were no happier than those in less wealthy countries. A recent American study also found that beyond an annual income of US $ 75,000, any further increase in salary has no significant impact on our level of happiness – at least for Americans.

Does this mean that money and other materialistic activities serve no long-term purpose for achieving happiness? Of course not. Having more money can make you happier.

The human animal is incapable of being satisfied except for brief moments. Once satisfied, he passes to the next need that he must fill.

Most often, the money is particularly useful at the two lowest levels of need in Maslow’s pyramid.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed in his hierarchy of needs theory (what you see below) 5 levels of basic needs. At the bottom of the pyramid is physiological needs, what we need to stay alive: air, food, water, sleep, etc. personal security, financial security, health and fitness, etc.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

With our two lower layer needs met through monetary means, we gain a greater sense of control and certainty over our environment. Beyond these two needs, we would achieve the right state of mind to seek and have happiness.

Such peace of mind allows us to enjoy life’s moments and communicate better with people, both of which are crucial components in beating this delicate treadmill.

By increasing the levels, money may not have the same impact on our well-being for much longer. We can’t really meet the needs of love / belonging, esteem and self-realization with money, can we? But at least now we’re ready to be happy.

The secret to being happy

According to the psychology professor at the University of California at Riverside Sonja lyubomirskybestseller of “The how of happiness, “40% of our happiness actually depends on what we choose to think and what activities we engage in on an ongoing basis.

It’s here that what we choose to pursue in our lives matters and has the potential to help us escape the treadmill phenomenon. Depending on what we prioritize in our life and the decisions we make on a daily basis, our happiness set point may change.

Trapped like rats

There was a second part to Easterlin’s discoveries in that what we earn is actually related to our happiness. To be precise, Easterlin concluded that the the relative income between us and the people around us is what determines our happiness.

happiness by winning

For example, if you earn $ 60,000 a year, you are happier in a country where the average annual income is $ 20,000 than if the average is $ 80,000. Sounds like a case of following the Joneses? You bet.

What you can do to be happy

Well first of all we should live the present moment in our lives rather than focusing too much on the future or ruminating on our past. The present is what we really own and it is these activities that we choose to engage in that will make us happy beings.

So what can you choose to do today?

1. List your blessings

In a psychology experiment by Emmons and McCullough, a group of participants were asked to write 5 things for which they are grateful, once a week. After doing this for 10 weeks, the group ended up feeling better and more optimistic about their lives, and experimented with fewer physical symptoms of illness.

Check this out benefits of gratitude Make a list to see what science has to say about the power of gratitude.

2. Physical exercises

This also contains some scientific truth. Exercise has been shown to improve your mood, improve your sleep, and be a great stress reliever (as it lowers cortisol levels in the body).

physical exercise

Exercise also releases endorphins and dopamine, the “happy chemicals” or neurotransmitters in our brains that allow us to experience pleasure and induce a sense of well-being in us.

Learn more about this with regard to high level runner, how moderate aerobic exercise can elevate mood, why physically active people feel more enthusiastic, and how exercise helps depressed patients.

3. Perform acts of kindness

Research has shown that doing random acts of kindness makes you happy. In fact, “altruism“should be the one receiving the praise but in either case the key is to do random, unscheduled acts (which would dilute the effects).

It is probably no coincidence that most, if not all, major religions endorse kindness and forgiveness as one of their foundational teachings.

The best part about it all is that research has also shown it to be some sort of self-sustaining loop: Doing kind deeds makes us happier, which makes us more inclined to do even nicer deeds! Check out this post for ideas for random acts of kindness

4. Set social goals

If you’re working hard for a raise just to make it a materialistic pursuit (do you really need another smartphone?) You’re still trapped, but if you’re aiming for it for day-to-day activities or building the social relationships then research indicates that you are on the right track.

Research has shown that people are happier when shopping gain life experiences (eg travel, dinner with friends, etc.) versus material goods. The shared experiences embedded in our memory bank have a more lasting effect than that triggered by a materialistic pursuit.

Do not seek happiness

Despite all the research results and expert advice, saying goodbye to this cunning hedonic treadmill for life remains a Herculean task. We may find ourselves never finding a right answer to what life and happiness are, and in turn, finding the pursuit of happiness a lost cause.

in search of happiness

To this end, psychologist and Holocaust survivor, Victor frankl has this to say:

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must follow, and it does so only as an unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as a by-product of its surrender to someone other than oneself.

During his 3 years as a prisoner of war in the Nazi concentration camps, he discovered that the inmates who found meaning in their suffering and held the hope of being released were the ones who ultimately survived. After his release, Frankl continued to establish that “will to meaning” is essential to achieving the fulfillment of our lives.

Happiness should come

The emphasis is not on oneself, but on finding meaning in everyday demands. It means take responsibility for our actions and fully fulfill our duties. It means living in the present and respond to life as it unfolds.

Happiness should not be seen as an end in itself, but rather as a by-product of having meaning in life through the choices we have consciously made. If this all sounds too philosophical for you to digest, here is another take from a politician on how happiness should “happen” rather than be achieved:

Happiness is like a cat, if you try to coax it or call it out, it will avoid you; that will never come. But if you don’t pay attention to it and go about your business, you’ll see it rub against your legs and jump onto your knees.

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