Harvesting Happiness

In 1978, psychologists Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman compared the self-reported happiness levels of lottery winners, compared to paralyzed victims and normal people as controls. Surprisingly, lottery winners didn't report themselves much happier than the control group, and although the paralyzed people showed as less happy than the controls, the difference was not as big as you would think. Surprisingly, happiness can rebound from many things, and is not guaranteed even when we reach a cherished goal, nor is endless misery guaranteed when we lose something cherished.

Before we get people to do something that might make them happy, we have to find out if those goals they have are actually going to be a source of happiness for them.

My own experience is that people cope with more concrete disasters, like losing money or a leg, then they do after brain injury, or after becoming ill with a diagnosis of a mental disorder.  The visible is easier to deal with, rather than the invisible.

The issue of how to define happiness for ourselves has other implications: believe it or not, rewards that we may receive for doing something concrete, such as money for a mechanical job do work, but, strangely, money received for a more creative project actually has been found to make us less happy, and produce a worse result!

It turns out that what makes us happy, what motivates us, follows the philosophy of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.  Yep, we do things for ourselves that grow us and are important to us, we do things that we have to struggle with to improve ourselves, and we do things that make us part of a bigger picture, and all of these three things have the capacity to make us happy or happier.  So winning the lottery in itself won’t make us happy, but if we use that money to do things that are important to us, that improve us day to day, and that make us part of a wider socially meaningful project, ask Bill Gates, it makes us happy!

To make this happen, have a look at the things you set up as goals: do they meet the criteria above?

John Bronsteen, at Loyola University notes that "People make mistakes about what they want”.  So how do we avoid that?

Decide on three things when you plan your goals, your life:

1. What is important to you, and to you alone, can you find three reasons why each thing in your life that you want is important? 

2. What small steps can you take each day that get you finally to where you are going, and which make you confident you can get to the big goals of life?

3. Find three reasons why you would want to get going doing this stuff now, today, and not tomorrow. 

And finally write down the three elements above.  When you find what is important to you, when you define the steps towards happiness that are small enough to assist your success, but still take you to where you want to go, and finally, why you want to begin on those steps now, not tomorrow, you will be on the road to establishing autonomy, gaining mastery, and finding a purpose in life that will lead to happiness.

As mentioned on the show, we try to minimize danger, and maximize reward: going through the steps above will help you gain perspective, and find the outcomes that will make you happy.
Here is a story: A man asks a Guru what is the secret of happiness.  He sends the man out to seek a man who is happy, and borrow his shirt. He travels all over the world, and finally, after years, he finds a man harvesting a field, whistling, happy, smiling.  He goes to the man and asks to borrow his shirt.  The man is shocked, but responds that he does not, in fact, own a shirt, he is too poor.
When you go to bed at night, and you have fed and clothed and housed your family, for just one day, which was all you could do, you may in fact feel happy, what you do, makes a difference, and is easy to see.
For many of us in the Western World, we might find it hard at the end of the day to see that what we did made a difference.  Our sense of relatedness, or being part of a larger picture, may be obscure. We need to have a very keen sense that what we do makes a difference, and see that, or suffer what Karl Marx called ‘alienation’, a feeling of non-ownership of our success.  Poorer people, despite their desperation, may feel that sense each time they go to bed having eaten, in a bed, under a roof.  Tomorrow, is another day, with challenges.  Donald Trump says that each day is another battle, another struggle, and in order to harvest happiness, you have to achieve a sense that what You did, made a difference to your life, and to others, so that you can harvest happiness.

Follow the steps above, and clarify for yourself what life means to you.