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Why Is Happiness Short-lived?

“I will be so happy once I get the latest iPhone”.

“Once I get that new dress, I will be happy”.

“I want to move to Goa soon, I bet that will make me happy”.

Have you found yourself saying something similar? 

A statement that goes - “Once I get …. Then I will be happy”.

What happens next? Let’s say you get what you have been hoping for, the dress, the gadget, the promotion. How long does that happiness last?

It lasts for only about a week or two, a month at the most. Then it fades away. Have you ever wondered why this happens? There is a point when you feel like you need this thing more than anything in the world, if there is anything that can make you happy in this world, it is this one thing. Yet, when you actually receive it, your happiness does not tend to last that long.

Why is that?

There was a study done on lottery winners. For many of us, winning the lottery is a big deal. Even a life-altering event, as some would put it. How long do you think the happiness from winning the lottery would last?

The research included 22 lottery winners who had won a significant amount in the lottery and 22 people who did not. The people who did not win the lottery were assigned to the control group. Surprisingly, the researchers found that lottery winners were not very different in terms of happiness when compared to the control group. 

After a while, the happiness level of the lottery winners returned to the baseline. This means, after a certain amount of time, they were back to being as happy or unhappy as they were before winning the lottery.

This study is important because it points out a common phenomenon we observe in everyday life. Happiness is short-lived. 

Why so?

In psychology, there is a concept of hedonic adaptation. It states that with time, we get used to the pleasant or unpleasant events that have occurred in our lives. We eventually return to our baseline levels of happiness, that is, as happy/sad as we were before the event occurred. 

This phenomenon works in our favour as we get used to negative events as well. Though certain incidents have a deeper impact and need more time to get used to than others. 

This works against us when it comes to pleasant events, where it is very easy to adapt. The surge of happiness caused by moving out to a different place for a new job, getting a promotion, buying the latest gadget, winning the first prize, and similar positive incidents slowly fade away.

But what does this imply?

Does it mean we never seek pleasurable emotions because happiness is short-lived? How do we prolong the period of positive emotions?

There are some simple techniques that you can use to feel happy for a longer period.

Savour your experiences - Do you have your favourite food for lunch? Eat a bite and savour it. Pay attention to the flavours, the aroma, and the taste. This way you will prolong the positive experience and it will last longer in your memory. Think about it this way, you have done trekking all the way to come to this mountain top, before getting down, take a moment to actually savour the experience. Pay attention to the different things you see around you, and notice how you feel. You can apply this even with the daily interactions, hug your best friend, your mom, a little longer than usual. Notice how it feels.

Increase the number of positive events - To increase positive emotions, it makes sense to increase the number of positive events, right? Yes, doing small things that you love every day will constantly keep you in a good mood and a little above your baseline level of happiness. Meet your friends often. Grab a bite at your favourite cafe. Have a short one-day trip that’s long pending on your to-do list.

Maintain a gratitude journal - There are times when you have the best day when everything goes right. Write about these instances in your gratitude journal. As you write about them, try to relive the experience. Write about what happened and how you felt. I bet the next time you read it, you will walk down memory lane and relive that incident once again.