"Baseline Happiness" - The One That Counts?
Happiness is inside us, right? It feels like a platitude coming from every direction: spirituality, neuroscience, success gurus, philosophy and more. Just when we become really sure that we need one particular thing in our life to finally be happy, these voices seem to be telling us - in effect - that we really don't want what we think we want. What we think will make us happy is actually just another mirage in our journey across the deserts of life. The water we seek is inside - and it's been there all along, they say! If you're anything like me you often don't want to hear it, especially when the object of desire may be tantalizingly close!
But there's really something to it. Researchers have studied those with life changing, positive events like winning the lottery, alongside those with negative ones like having an accident which leaves them with permanent paralysis. While these events are most unmistakably polarizing in their initial effects, an interesting trend emerged: regardless of the event that would happen to someone, they would usually revert to their baseline level of happiness within a few weeks or months of the supposedly life changing event. That means that however happy they were before is generally how happy they were again.
That person who suddenly had all the money they could ever dream of? They adjusted to it... it became normal. The new normal felt remarkably similar to the old one. And the person who was suddenly, irreversibly a paraplegic wasn't able to change their physical condition - but they did seem to adjust more or less back to where they were mentally before their accident. No matter what happened to people via external events, they tended to return to the general level of happiness they had beforehand, before long.
If we can't rely on winning millions of dollars to give us lasting happiness, what's the point? And if a traumatic, disabling accident won't sour an otherwise cheerful person, what do we have to fear?
The truth is that our baseline happiness is what really decides how happy we are over time. And it's inside. It runs on cruise control, independent of the events that bounce us around during the off-road race of life. Baseline happiness is part of who we are, our essence - it's also something that's in our control to change if we are committed to uncovering and improving it.
What can improve baseline happiness? That can be the work of a lifetime - a deep look at our concepts of purpose, personal values, limiting beliefs and more. Each of those is a topic I'll approach at another time. Until then, what's your baseline? If you want it to be better... really, what are you waiting for?