Most of us fantasize that a major life change -- a lottery win, for example, or a move to a sunnier climate -- will provide us with a lasting increase in personal happiness. However, the results of a study suggest that, in most cases, that fantasy remains an illusion. People may not be good judges of the effect of changing circumstances on their own life satisfaction, or on that of others.
The human tendency to expect great emotional benefit from each life-change is often the result of what the authors call a focusing illusion. When people focus attention on a possible change in their lives, such as moving to a new place, they are likely to exaggerate the effect of this change on their well-being, for better or for worse. Indeed, the emotional impact of even major changes -- including divorce or loss of employment -- usually fades within a relatively short span of time, according to the authors.
When the situation in which they find themselves in is no longer novel, people in these circumstances often think of other things, such as the food they eat or the gossip they hear. This re-establishment of 'normalcy' eventually returns an individual's level of personal happiness to that experienced before the change.
The authors believe focusing illusions are all too easily manipulated by big businesses, politicians, and the media. Advertisers encourage us to believe that changing our weight, our scent, our hair color (or coverage), our car, or our clothes will produce marked improvements in our happiness. Some of these changes may indeed make some people happier, but there are many more cases in which the messages merely exploit a focusing illusion.
Psychological Science 1998;9:340-346.
Dr. Mercola's Comment:
I suspect that if most of us were honest with ourselves, we would agree with the conclusions of this study. I believe recalling this information when tempted to make major changes or purchases in the future may help provide a more rational decision. I can not help but interpret most things I read in light of Y2K. This report actually provides some reassurances in that respect. If Y2K devestatation is true, we will all be in for some hard times. The good news is that no matter how challenging life becomes, with time we will reach a new equilibrium where our happiness will reach the previous levels.
It is truly sad that the majority of people in our society suffer from chronic emptiness and dissatisfaction. What most people call happiness is actually pseduohappiness, a counterfeit that quickly evaporates. For those who fail to experience contentment, the most frequent response is to increase the pace, make more money, pursue more adventure, buy more toys, or to take more vacations to exotic locations. But the rushes of happiness are short lived and incapable of supplying deep satisfaction.
If strategies for finding contentment do not come from within, they won't work for long. You can develop yourself into anything, accumulate incredible wealth and health, or garner enormous status but your good feeling will be fleeting if your spiritual life is flimsy or non-existent, if you ignore your deeply held values and if you disregard your thoughts, emotions and desires. In order to develop this kind of inner harmony, you must get yourself in a right relationship with God. Understanding that you are totally loved and accepted by the God of the universe eliminates any need to scramble for some temporary source of well-being.
It is all too easy to live life in the future or the past, yearning for better days ahead or reliving the glories and missed opportunities of years gone by. In either case, we fail to experience the joy and richness of life as it unfolds.
Living in the now is more fulfilling and rewarding when we focus on this moment than if we focus on all other moments combined. When our faith in God is well established, we become convinced that He will guide and help us through any future challenge. It is this assurance, built on faith, that frees us from anxiety and allows us to remain in the present. Similarly, the promise of forgiveness enables us to release our guilt. We are liberated to live fully in the present. Practice this NOW so you will be prepared for the tough times ahead as there are less than 420 days left for Y2K.