Everyone has a different answer to the question: What makes you happy? It is difficult to find a common answer because the lenses through which people look at their own lives are different. These lenses are our personal values, beliefs and aptitude to prioritize what really matters to us. Beyond every definition, happiness is what makes you feel good and satisfied with who you are and what you have.
The common belief is to see the correlation between material objects and happiness. Most people think the more they have the happier they are. Is it really possible to quantify happiness on the basis of material possessions? Scientific research has shown that people think that more money will make their life happier and improve their quality of life. For that reason, they value a good job, high income, and expensive possessions as the most important goals to reach during their life.
The main aspect to consider is that we judge our lives, set expectations, and make predictions using specific reference points, such as what other people have achieved in their lives. In general, a reference point is a salient, but often irrelevant, standard against which subsequent information is compared. Nowadays, the most used reference point is the social comparison. We evaluate our own salary, status, possessions, and abilities in relation to those of other people.
For example, thinking about what counts as a good job, we know that most of our evaluation concerning what a good job is, actually relates to earning a high salary which is what almost everybody seems to care about. How much salary do you really need? What is the income that you think would make you happy? We tend to evaluate the necessary salary according to the previous one, this means that if you earn €30,000 you think that to be happy you have to earn €50,000. And so on, if you have arrived at €100,000, you are thinking that what you really need is €250,000. This is a psychological and mental process that constantly pushes you to believe that you need more in order to be happy. Fundamentally, we are never satisfied with what we have and, look around us to compare our lives with others. Certainly, the perfect income, lifestyle or a guaranteed way to reach happiness does not exist.
In fact, two American psychologists, Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert in their article “Miswanting: Some Problems in the Forecasting of Future Affective States” explain this psychological process as “miswanting”, i.e., the act of being mistaken about what and how much you will like something in the future”. The main idea at the root of this concept is that our desires are influenced by our imagination of future events, personal beliefs about the ways in which people, who are like us, are likely to react to such events, and the gut reactions we experience when we imagine these future events. So for that reason, we believe that more money will buy us happiness and that all we need is more designer clothes, expensive furniture to fill our houses or a luxury car. As soon as we obtain all of these, will we really be happy?
In reality, after a certain period of time we get accustomed to these material possessions and we do not feel the same satisfaction anymore from what we have, so the mind sets new and higher expectations. This seemingly endless process does not make us happy. Therefore, we should realize that for most of us happiness is doing something that we love, that gives a sense and purpose to our lives, and where we can express our talents and deep passions.
“Genuine happiness comes from within, and often it comes in spontaneous feelings of joy“. Andrew Weil