Happiness is an emotional state characterized by joy, contentment, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Humans are naturally inclined towards happiness because happiness is a reflection of comfort. The inclination towards comfort comes from our Id i.e. the pleasure-seeking part of self as stated by Freud in his mental model.
Our Id consists of all the primate instincts that have been encoded in our genes. Evolutionary psychologists theorize happiness to be an adaptive advantage. It aided survival by making one fit, more attuned with the environment, society and making it easy to find a mate. Happiness is also an energy booster that makes us feel life is worthy.
Happiness first occurred as a genetic variation but persisted because it helped us stay alive. The sensation of happiness is fuelled by the release of dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter).
It is rated amongst the 12 goals in people’s life. Everyone wants to be happy because this quest is encoded in our genes!
But why do some people fail to stay happy? Why do countries have poor happiness indexes?
A country is a group of people sharing a common boundary. An unhappy country is a group of people sharing the same wrong path to fulfill the goal to remain happy. It can be understood from the 7 deadly happiness sins:
- Devaluing happiness
Although you can never remain happy all the time, primarily because it is nearly impossible that everything that happens with you will not distress you. You cannot choose to remain happy if someone you love has met with an accident. You may remain positive, calm, and patient but not happy.
Devaluing happiness means that you simply demean happiness for the sake of other factors.
For example, You can afford chocolate ice cream and it literally makes you happy but you are choosing vanilla because it is cheaper. After finishing the ice cream you may not be happy. There is a thin line between saving money and being a miser. Being a miser, you will never be happy because you will be constantly anxious.
Another example can be the way you choose your job. Imagine you have to do a job that pays you less but you enjoy doing it. There is another job with higher pay and you can do it too but it does not make you happy. What will you choose? You may argue here that more money buys more freedom hence more happiness but this job will start taking a toll on your health, relationship, and family life that will no longer make you happy.
When people collectively stop valuing happiness and make a cult where high earning folks get all the respect, overwork to the extent of causing burnout is applauded, and sacrificing family time for attending client calls is called dedication then the happiness index of the country starts becoming poor. It breeds toxicity.
- Chasing superiority
Comparing yourself to others on aspects like attractiveness, economic status, skills, power, etc. takes a toll on your happiness levels. The urge to compare comes from our primate tendency of mirroring ourselves into others.
You may have seen a toddler copying his parents or a monkey copying you. This is called mirroring behavior.
We see our image in others, and if it appears inferior, causing an inferiority complex then we tend to seek ways to feel superior.
The urge to dominate is also encoded in our genes causing us to chase superiority.
The reason why people want to be superior to others is to maximize their Id needs.
George Orwell in his book "Animal farm" quoted "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others". It depicts our innate tendency to seek superiority and suppress others so that we remain the alpha male in society.
The urge to dominate comes from the fear of getting dominated and getting dominated has a probability of you being exploited, bullied, or abused.
Before you start thinking if chasing superiority is a natural and justified human life task, let me remind you chasing sex is also a justified life task but rape is not justified.
The crux of this sin "chasing superiority" is that it is natural to seek an edge over others but it is too toxic when it requires you to make others feel inferior or if someone starts feeling inferior in front of you, or you push yourself to become superior.
- The need to be loved
Humans need to develop social relationships to be happy. A Harvard study in 2015 showed good relationships keep us happier and healthier. We have a deep-seated need to belong and connect.
Maintaining relations where there is in-person contact activates hormones reducing stress, making you feel healthier and happier. Psychologists from Maslow to Baumeister have concentrated on the importance of connections.
Harry Harlow’s experiment with baby monkeys proved that there is a deep-seated need to connect which goes beyond other needs such as food and thirst. We also tend to care a lot about what others think even more than our own experiences. When we are rejected by social groups or even individuals same areas in the brain are activated which are active during physical pain. Even the Blood pressure of those who felt lonely was 30 points higher than others.
The truth about our relationships with other humans is that we cannot make everyone happy. People are going to reject you in life and at times you are also going to reject others. The primary thing to learn is to love yourself.
Social relationships give us a sense of happiness and belongingness and fulfill our need of being loved and it is completely healthy to chase it but relying on people to make you happy, validate your successes, listen to your miseries and sad life is toxic.
Learning to love yourself, love others unconditionally, and without any expectation to be loved back is an antidote to this sin.
- Being controlling
We want to control others as well as our surroundings. The desire to control stems from the belief that we do better physically and mentally when things around us are in our control. Being overly controlling of others and surroundings lowers happiness levels.
Just like we desire to control others they have a desire not to be controlled by us. Psychological reactance increases with attempted control.
For example, when one of your employees doesn’t behave the way you want them to it leads to power stress. Being highly controlling you set yourself up for disappointment, anger and frustration when others don’t follow what you say. A little control to steer the collective efforts in the desired direction is healthy, however, being excessively controlling leads to narcissism and at times psychopathy.
- Distrusting others
Is distrusting others until they have proven they can be trusted healthy?
Professor Helliwell found that the most determining factor of the happiness level of a country depends on the answer to the question – “In general, can you trust others”? Countries which top the happiness index like Finland and Netherlands people are more trusting of one another. This stems from our evolutionary need to trust others for survival.
Trust breeds security and mistrust breeds the opposite and blind trust breeds a perfect ground where you have a fair probability of being stabbed.
The idea is to reduce dependency on others, trust your abilities and resources first and then trust others. Be a pillion on someone's bike but wear a helmet at the back also!
- Do you Distrust life?
Tragic events teach us that life can be unpredictable. What might seem has a bad outcome at first might trigger positive outcomes. We shouldn’t rely on outcomes for happiness. William Blake said, “Joy and woe are woven fine”. Considering the single best and worst things that happened to you in the past year are often the same. Professor Sonia Lyubomirsky goes on to argue that is because we tether our happiness to outcomes, making the mistake of thinking that external circumstances, earning a lot of money, being married to a particular person, living in a big house, etc., will make us happier.
In reality, she argues, external circumstances account for only 10% of our happiness.
- Do not Ignore the source within
Aristotle called happiness the chief good, the end towards which all other things aim. Happiness cannot be found in those monetary goods it lies in our moment-to-moment experiences. Matt Killingsworth in this research using an app called track your happiness found that people who were in the present moment were happier than those whose minds wandered. The simple reason being when our mind wonders we often think about unpleasant things.
If happiness is your goal you need to make it your priority. Avoid these sins like the plague, and you will be well on your way to a very happy life.