I am sure this is the question which bothers a lot of people, why am I not experiencing happiness even though I have everything?
There are lot of ways to explain this and let me begin by talking about a concept called “Experience stretching hypothesis”. It simple means that as we repeat an experience over and over again the pleasure we derive from it goes on decreasing much like the Law of Decreasing Marginal returns in economics. It’s pretty basic. Do you remember the time when you bought your first car? What was the feeling? Ecstasy! And every single day you derived immense pleasure by driving it. And then what happened? You started earning more, you felt like having a new car and then the cars kept changing every few years and now the car gives you no pleasure. None at all! Too much and it can make uou unhappy.
I think we can all relate to this, our first doll, first bicycle, first designer bag and what not!
This reminds me of a story I had read as a child by the famous author Shivani. She talks about neighbours in a mountain village whose kids were great friends with each other. One of the families was vegetarian while the other was non-vegetarian. The vegetarian kids heard such tales about the taste of non-veg food from their friends that they really wanted to taste it but were not permitted. However kids being kids, and highly creative, worked out a way. The non-veg friends said that we will allow you to smell the non veg food in exchange for Imli (Tamarind) you gather in your Aangan (backyard).
So a plan was formed and the veg kids waited near the kitchen of non veg kids. As soon as the mom sat the meat to cook and then left to do other chores, the non-veg friends whistled to call their veg friends. All kids hovered around the rustic stove (Chulha) waiting for that moment where they could at least savour the smell. The eldest child lifted the lid of the pot and others just inhaled and savoured the aroma. It was heaven, the senses just soaked in the experience and then the lid closed; but the aroma stayed with the kids. Shivani says she was one of those kids herself, and that experience was worth every tamarind she gave away. She says the aroma is still with her and later when she was free to have non-veg food she still could not relish it as much as she relished that aroma. Wealth here actually rook away the happiness.
So what science means by “experience stretching hypothesis”. ?
In a study done by psychologists at the University of Liege, published in Psychological Science the psychologists contacted 351 adult employees of the University of Liège, from custodial staff to senior administrators, for an online survey. The scientists primed the subjects by showing them a stack of Euro bills before asking them a bunch of questions which attempted to capture their “savouring ability.”
Here’s how the savouring test worked:
Participants were asked to imagine finishing an important task (contentment), spending a romantic weekend away (joy), or discovering an amazing waterfall while hiking (awe). Each scenario is followed by eight possible reactions, including four savouring strategies (i.e., displaying positive emotions, staying in moment, anticipating or reminiscing about the event, and telling other people about the experience). Participants were required to select the response or responses that best characterize what their typical behaviour in each situation would be, and receive 1 point for each savouring strategy selected. The findings were:
2. More importantly in the experiment a simple reminder of wealth produced the same negative effects as actual wealth on an individual’s ability to savour, meaning that simply knowing that certain expensive pleasures are affordable to you kills your ability to savour.
3. Having too much actually accelerate the rate at which you are moving towards inability to find pleasure and happiness.
Beyond this experience another factor comes into play which becomes possible with wealth and makes us unhappy. What happens is that once we can afford a lot of things, we keep increasing the threshold of what will make us happy. Let us take an example, if in our college days a tea and samosa or bun made us happy in the company of friends, we start replacing it with a burger or pizza in an AC restaurant, may be without that many friends. Soon we feel that even this is not enough to make me happy and I need to eat only in 5 star places! Same goes for clothes from getting them to be stitched from local tailor we move to more and more expensive brand to the extent that absence of luxuries becomes unimaginable and what made us happy earlier totally fails to make us happy now. See how wealth makes you unhappy.
By now it becomes a vicious cycle wherein we start having less time because we have to earn that much money plus our threshold for pleasure has gone up to impossible levels and eventually we end up in a situation where thrill simply goes out of our lives. We really cannot find anything even if affordable to give us the kick. Most people in this pursuit have reduced number of close friends and social interaction to compound the issue. It becomes a lonely, restless spot where long term joy is elusive.
A very negative outcome of this is the effect it has on our kids. Knowingly or unknowingly, we start giving them a very high threshold for pleasure very early in life.
How many of you have heard people telling their kids, next time I will take you to an even better park? Or Next time I will buy you an even tastier ice cream? May be we ourselves have done it! By doing this we are actually telling the child that wait there are things which can make you happier! Honestly the child does not care.
For a child that happiness is complete and she is not waiting for next experience to be happy. Next is an adult concept, and unfortunately when we start raising the bar of happiness like this for the child, we are actually arming her with unhappy attitudes for life. So limit options for your child.
Also set an example of deriving pleasures from simple things, keep your pleasure threshold low is NEED VERY LITTLE TO BE HAPPY!
Here are 5 mantras for Happiness:
• Practice Gratitude.
• Live on Less.
• Provide for Yourself, be self-sustaining
• Appreciate the Outdoors
• Seek Community & Build Family Ties.>
And also keep some things unaffordable in Life, its important for happiness!
Stop the chase of wealth be Happy! I leave you with a small poignant snippet.
That same night, I wrote my first short story. It took me thirty minutes.It was a dark little tale about a man who found a magic cup and learned that if he wept into the cup, his tears turned into pearls. But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear.
So, he found ways to make himself sad so that his tears could make him rich. As the pearls piled up, so did his greed grow.
The story ended with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls, knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife’s slain body in his arms.
― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runne
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