Martin Seligman, a psychologist, pioneered the positive in the 1990s, which put the study of human happiness at the centre of psychological theory and research.
Since then, researchers have written thousands of studies and hundreds of publications with the goal of boosting safety and assisting people in living more satisfying lives by attaining their intrinsic potential and creating meaning in their lives.
You can’t have everything you want
The fundamental part of the problem is that happiness is not just one thing. A philosopher who studies the history of happiness, Jennifer Hecht, suggested in her book “The Happiness Myth” that we all experience different types of happiness, but it does not have to be complementary to each other; Some types of happiness may conflict with others.
In other words, having too much of one type of happiness may undermine our ability to get enough of the others; So it is impossible for us to have all kinds of happiness in large quantities at the same time.
For example, a fulfilling life built on a successful career and a good marriage takes a lot of work, and a successful marriage often requires avoiding the pleasures of pleasure, such as parties or going on unexpected trips, and with regard to work; it also means that you can’t spend a lot of your time on a few fun days spent without work in the company of friends.
Hard labour, on the other hand, demands you to forego many of life’s pleasures; for example, you may not be able to spend your time relaxing, and your friendships may dissolve. The greater the increase in happiness in one aspect of life, the lower it is in another.
A beautiful past and a future full of opportunities
The way our brains interpret happiness experiences further complicates this conundrum.
For illustration, consider the following examples:
We all said, at some point in our lives, “Wouldn’t it be nice when…”, eg: I go to college, fall in love, have kids, etc. Likewise, we often hear older people start sentences with: “ Wasn’t it great when…” Think of how we rarely hear someone say, “Isn’t it great, now?”
Certainly, our past and our future are not always better than the present, and yet we continue to believe that this is the case, and these are the things which separate the portion of our minds that considers our past and future happiness from the unpleasant truth.
People have constructed whole religions around them, whether they talk about the “Garden of Eden” – when things were wonderful – or consider the promise of eternal happiness in paradise as divine.
There is evidence for why our brains work this way. Most of us have something called an optimistic bias, which is the belief that our future will be better than our present.
Cognitive psychologists have also identified something called the Pollyanna Principle, which means we process, train and remember good information from the past more than unpleasant information.
Depressed individuals may focus on past failures and disappointments.
However, most of us perceive the good old days as good because we focus on the positive things and overlook the unpleasant things that occur daily.
Our memories of the past are often distorted, but we tend to view them with a positive outlook.
Self-deception as an evolutionary advantage
These illusions about the past and the future can be an adaptive part of the human psyche, as well as self-deception that enables us to keep striving. If our past was wonderful, our future can be even better; It means that we can work our way out of the unpleasant present (or at least the ordinary present).
The fleeting nature of happiness is revealed by all of this.
Emotion researchers have long known about something called a hedonic treadmill. We work hard towards a goal, anticipating the happiness that goal will bring, and unfortunately, after a brief correction, we soon fall back into our basic normal way and start chasing something else, which we believe will definitely “finally” make us happy.
However, studies of lottery winners, people who seem to have it all, and who often have low confidence, find that getting what they really want will change their lives and make them happier.
Positive events, such as winning a million dollars, and unfortunate events that may occur in life, do not significantly affect an individual’s level of happiness in the long term.
But this is how it should be, at least from an evolutionary perspective.
Dissatisfaction with the present and dreams of the future motivates us, and sweet memories of the past reassure us that we can realise the feelings we seek.
Perpetual bliss would undermine our will to achieve anything at all, and our ancient ancestors who were completely satisfied with their lives were the ones who remained far behind the rest.