One of the main keys to happiness is making progress in the most important areas of your life. There is no end point that will make you permanently happy. In order to stay happy we have to keep climbing the staircase and never go stagnant. This means we need to spend a lot less time comparing ourselves to those with “perfect” lives and instead start focusing on improving ours.
The problem with comparing yourself to other people is that you don’t even know what you are comparing to. People will only show you what they want you to see. You might as well compare yourself to James Bond instead of someone you “know” from social media or a neighbor or that perfect family at daycare. There are plenty of fit people out there with some of the most messed up body image and food issues that you could ever imagine. People in big houses with luxury cars that are covered in debt and stressed around the clock. There are couples on facebook that look like the picture of happiness until they get a divorce.
I have even seen some of the popular folks on social media (usually the ones trying to sell you something) getting exposed for renting high-end luxury cars and mansions for these one-day photo shoots to make themselves look mega wealthy. They will then take literally thousands of professional photos, pick the few best shots, photoshop them to make them look even better and then post them so you can get a look into their “life”. But, the crazy thing is even if these people did have a “perfect” life and you were instantly put in their shoes it still would not make you happy for the long term.
There Is No End Point
It is very easy to look at what someone else has and to think, “man if only I had XYZ then I would be happy”. However, the truth is that it wouldn’t make a difference for any meaningful amount of time. In fact, the attitude of “I need this before I can be happy” you are programming your brain to not be happy. There is actually a very popular study that is often cited when talking about this topic which examined the happiness of lottery winners and recent paraplegic accident victims.
The study found that the lottery winners were no happier than the paralyzed victims after about 6 to 9 months. Of course, right after the big win, there was a massive change in happiness. But, the new wealth soon became normal to them and ceased to bring happiness. The lottery winners also got less joy from small daily events compared to the paralyzed victims. They were looking for the next lottery-like win to make them happy. A sunrise can seem pretty lame compared to winning 10 million dollars.
I’m sure most people can relate to this. I know that I was so happy when I received notice that I had passed my professional engineering exam as I knew how much time and effort went into it. I was on cloud 9 for about a month and couldn’t stop thinking about it. However, the joy and pride I felt from the accomplishment slowly faded and my brain went to “okay now what?” This returning-to-neutral is referred to as the hedonic treadmill in psychology.
Just Keep Climbing
So what are we supposed to do if everything positive that happens to us will only result in short-term happiness? We must simply start making some real measurable progress in our own lives. No matter where you are currently, you need to start taking steps towards improvement. That might mean building up your endurance so you can walk a mile. Or it might mean running a marathon in under 3 hours. Progress for you might mean getting out of debt or it might mean giving away a million dollars to charity.
Just keep taking small steps towards your goals and you will be able to keep your overall happiness high. When you are making progress, it feels like you are winning, regardless of where you are compared to others.
What do you think? Is there an end point to anything where maximum happiness could be sustained without progress? Have you ever noticed this return to baseline happiness in your life?