You're Expecting the Wrong Things to Make You Happy

Why we should celebrate our everyday experiences more than our milestones.

By Henry Adeleye on August 10, 2015


For many, finding happiness sometimes feels like it's the hamster wheel with the dangling carrot; something we can see right in front of our faces but can never quite grasp. Oftentimes, we tell ourselves, "I'll be happy as soon as I get this car, or this job, or go on a date with this celebrity," as if the things we have now just aren't good enough. Then when we finally do reach those milestones, we look around at others who have seemingly accomplished more and may suddenly not feel so accomplished, yet again. We start saying to ourselves that we'll now only be happy when we get this even better car, career, date, etc. Like yesterday you would've been happy using those shoes that have roller skate wheels as your main source of transportation, but now since your friend bought a Prius, you just have to get a Ferrari or life isn't worth living.

I stumbled across a great article by a friend of mine about how today's generation feels entitled to happiness. It drives the point that it's perfectly fine to be unhappy if you haven't reached certain milestones or if you live a fairly mundane life. While I'll never tell someone they shouldn't reach for the stars, thinking your accomplishments will merit joy is expecting the wrong things to make you happy.

A recent psychological study shows that the things that really make people happy are, in fact, those mundane moments. In the study, people were asked to recall specific events from the past that brought them great delight. Rather than thinking about big accomplishments or once-in-a-lifetime concerts, they thought back to discovering an old music playlist, a conversation with an old neighbor, or sipping a cup of tea with their girlfriends. Surprisingly even to them, these were the things that brought the most happiness. The simple things that you can't really show off to people. The things that don't get you a hundred likes on social media. The things you probably don't even have a picture of.  A similar, though way less scientific, exercise we conducted a few weeks ago asking people what one thing they were most lucky to have yielded similar results. Nothing flashy or materialistic was given as an answer.

Somewhere down the line, social media companies and helicopter moms ruined it for everybody. They both held secret meetings that generated this idea that everyone should have the same materialistic things and ascribe to the same grand plans in life, or risk not getting a trophy. If you'd rather choose a path that's not the President of the United States, your fear of comparison to the actual President of the United States causes you sadness. Instead of basking in the relationships and experiences that have been shown to really bring happiness, we're trying to keep up with the Joneses. And if you ever met the Joneses (I have), you'd see that they suck at life and live miserably underneath their façade.

Happiness is a journey, not a destination. It comes from the experiences we have with each other. It comes from the routes we take to get where we want to go, or at least where we think we want to go. It comes from that time you quit your job to make the world's largest Justin Bieber painting, even if no one bought it and everyone laughed at you. It's more about the marriage than it is the wedding. A lot of times, the mistake we make is expecting the things we can use to compare ourselves to others to give us the enjoyment we already have. When it comes to happiness, the milestones don't matter. The experiences do.