You’ve all heard the saying, “The grass is greener on the other side”, and I suspect that most of you have found that to be true as you’ve gone from one patch of green grass to another. At first, you may think your new patch of grass is greener, but one day you notice it has lost some of its color. It doesn’t seem as green as it used to be and you start dreaming of what the next green patch will look like. From your current perspective, that next patch will definitely be better. What is it that makes us think this over and over again despite proof to the contrary?
People believe they are not happy because they don’t have certain things in their lives. Maybe they aren’t thin enough and believe that once they are, happiness will come. Maybe they aren’t happy in their current relationship and begin to dream of the perfect one. Maybe they feel uninspired by the work they are doing and constantly search for a job that will make them happy. But is any of this really true? What is happiness, anyway, and is it possible to hold on to it when it is around?
Happiness is defined in the dictionary as the state of being happy or the experience of pleasure or joy. What it doesn’t tell me is how to keep it around. Is happiness a state of mind that can endure the test of time, or is it more fleeting, found only in moments here or there? Are we able to recognize when we have it if we are always dreaming of greener grass?
I recently watched a video on the TED website by Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert. It was titled, The Surprising Science of Happiness and was a pretty entertaining video. The man clearly loves his subject. Prof. Gilbert talks about how our brains can manufacture happiness even when we don’t get what we want. To quote from the biography on the website, “Dan Gilbert believes that, in our ardent, lifelong pursuit of happiness, most of us have the wrong map. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes — and fool everyone’s eyes in the same way — Gilbert argues that our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.” Is that why we are always looking elsewhere to find that bliss? Is that why we think the next patch of grass will be greener?
Prof. Gilbert goes on to explain that when we don’t get what we think we need to make us happy, we can create happiness with what we have. He calls this “synthetic happiness” and states that we don’t utilize this ability often enough. He also proposes that when we are presented with too many choices, we agonize over which one will make us happiest, and may feel less satisfied with our choice over time. With fewer choices, we more easily make the decision and feel happier with it in the long run.
So, is synthetic happiness just settling? Do we just tell ourselves we are happy so we won’t feel disappointed with what we have? According to Prof. Gilbert, “We think that synthetic happiness is worse than natural, but that seems to be not true. Experiments show that it is deeply embedded in the human brain. It is not just self-deception. We truly change our attitude to positive to things we get in life.”
Ask yourself, what do you think you need to be happy? Is that really true? When you get what you want, are you satisfied or disappointed? It may be helpful to identify what is the need beneath the want. You may think what you want will satisfy you, but it may only be a cover up for an underlying unmet need. Take a step back and look at what you have with new eyes. Maybe your patch of grass is green enough. Maybe a different shade isn’t really what you need. Look for clues within. The green grass of happiness awaits you there.
Yours in contentment and happiness,