Why getting that new car won't make you any happier
How many times have you heard someone say one of the following?
“I’ll be happy just as soon as I get this promotion.”
“I’ll be happy when I get that new car.”
“I’ll be happy when we can finally afford to go on a nice holiday.”
Unfortunately, we are very poor at predicting our own future happiness. Specifically, we tend to misjudge what will bring us joy. We place too great an emphasis on external factors (like buying a new car) and believe they will have a disproportionately positive effect on our wellbeing.
The problem comes when we get that thing we wanted, only to find that our happiness levels swiftly return to their previous state.
In effect, we experience a shortfall between our expectations and that little old thing called reality and this leaves us with a sense of frustration and disappointment. Ironically, by setting ‘conditions’ on our happiness we often end up achieving the exact opposite.
The reason for this is that our internal state has a far greater impact on our happiness than external factors do. More than anything, 'happiness' or indeed 'unhappiness' is a 'state of mind' and therefore will follow you wherever you go.
So what can you do about it?
One hack is to learn to set the bar low in terms of your expectations. This is not to say you shouldn't look forward to anything but it does mean you shouldn't think of that shiny new sports car as a guarantee that you'll live happily ever after.
What this does is soften the ‘conditional’ aspect of our expectations for future happiness. It games the system to work more in our favour. When the moment of reality arrives we will have managed our expectations sufficiently that we are not expecting this single, external event to have such a positive impact on our overall happiness.
It's like the difference between making plans for New Year's Eve (which normally ends up being a massive anti-climax) or leaving it completely open and ending up at a friend of a friend's house party where you end up having the experience of your lifetime!
When you catch yourself thinking if only I got that payrise I’d be so much happier remember that in doing so you’re almost certainly setting yourself up for the opposite.