What Will Make Me Happy?
When I was in my teens, I believed romantic love to be the answer. When I was in my twenties, I thought it was recognition for my genius. But in my early thirties, I felt more lost than I had ever been. What did I, and really all of us, really want? What would have made me happy? These questions are seemingly eternal and inextricably existential, as they’ve been with us since man’s dawn and will remain long after each of us are gone.
We look toward the future for this goal that’s ever so elusive, and delude ourselves into believing that it’s ours for the taking.
So, what am I if I’m not happy after I’ve achieved the things which I believed would make me so? Does this failure amount to clinical depression and accompanying anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure, or were my expectations too high, my perception of love too deep, and my hope for fame too desperate? Did they ever encompass real joy? And will they ever bring me happiness?
These questions run through my mind from time to time, particularly when I’m idle, confronting me with my past and my hopes for my future. I wonder how it is that I’ve had relationships, achieved some success in my field, and still find myself to be just as happy as I was five or ten years ago, with virtually no change in my overall psychological well-being. And, in light of all of this, my life inevitably feels like a waste, as I’m sure it does for most who’ve attained what they were fighting for only to be left in a bottomless pit of their own disappointment and exasperation.
Like many, I experienced a distorted way of seeing the world; I believed in the arrival fallacy, which tells us that we’ll be happy once we reach our global, life-altering destination. I thought that once I had the love of a beautiful woman, with the resultant self-esteem, and professional acclaim, I’d be happy. But, despite what I’ve achieved, I continue to feel a deep-seated sense of emptiness inside, which leaves me wondering if any of it is actually real.
Our culture teaches us that success, with its social status, critical acclaim, and trophy spouses, is the road to lasting joy, but I hardly ever see successful people who are truly happy, or even mildly content. For, the hedonic treadmill apparently has no end. Once you reach a special peak, you may thus bask in its ethereal glow, but be warned of its transient nature.
In themselves, romantic relationships and career success are wonderful things, but aren’t enough to sustain any semblance of lasting joy, not by themselves, at least. And, we’re partially to blame for we perpetually idealize them, conceiving of them as forms of paradise on Earth. However, each requires continued work and dedication, especially when the luster fades. But, instead of acceptance, we tend to seek out their alternatives, as though we “just haven’t met the one” or “need another promotion.”
Addicted to the Chase
Like everyone else on the hedonic treadmill, I was addicted to the highs of my accomplishments, always wanting more, never being satisfied with what I had. In essence, I was addicted to the chase of happiness, while missing all the good that was in front of me.
Looking back, I laugh at how jealous I was of others, never really knowing what their lives were like. I’m embarrassed and regretful of all of the moments that I wouldn’t allow myself to enjoy because I believed they weren’t enough. And, I long to have all of that wasted time back.
Study after study indicates that, when a person is making a stable, livable wage, the best predictor of happiness is her sense of being important in her community; relationships supersede our achievements, and love supplants our trophies.
Trophy partners don’t make us happy because they don’t love us; and our careers can’t care for and hold us when we need it most. So, what I’ve learned is that it’s nice to have a beautiful girlfriend, and it’s great to have a meaningful career, but not that at the expense of genuine intimacy and being seen and loved for who you are. Those are the things worth chasing; for, they are the only ones that sustain happiness.