When I was younger, I tended to set my expectations too high. Setting goals is fine, but I wanted everything to be a little too perfect. If life wasn’t going according to plan or if I hadn’t reached certain dreams and desires in an expected time frame, happiness seemed out of reach.
With the wisdom I’ve gained along the way, I’ve come to realize that happiness doesn’t depend on ideal circumstances or achievements. But sometimes I still fight that tendency. I’m certainly not alone.
Unfortunately, we humans tend to overestimate the importance of life circumstances on our happiness. For example, we may think if we had more money, lost weight, got rid of our wrinkles, or owned a nicer house, we’d be happier.
Who hasn’t dreamed of winning the lottery or inheriting money to ensure a life without financial worries, travel around the world, or buy luxury items?
The truth is chasing, and even achieving, these goals may actually make us less happy. For instance, people who suddenly fall into extreme wealth — whether because of an insurance settlement, a professional sports contract, or a lottery win — rarely find happiness.
Take one of the most prominent examples of lottery winners, Jack Whittaker, a West Virginia businessman who won a $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002. A decade later, his daughter and granddaughter had died of drug overdoses, his wife had divorced him, and he had been sued numerous times. Once, when he was at a strip club, someone drugged his drink and took $545,000 in cash that had been sitting in his car. He later sobbed to reporters, “I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”
Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, came to the conclusion that although circumstances and genetic factors play a large role in our happiness, we often underestimate how much control we have over our own feelings.
She reported that 50% of our happiness is set by our genes, 10% by life circumstances beyond our control, and 40% by our own actions. In other words, we have the power to make choices that can raise or lower our happiness level.
Life is never perfect. There will always be difficulties, frustrations, sadness, obstacles, and failures. Learning to overcome challenges makes us stronger as well as more confident, empathetic, and successful. So what if things don’t go according to plan or our lives aren’t picture perfect?
After all, happiness is not about what we have, it’s all about our attitude. Happiness is all about valuing, appreciating, and enjoying the people, experiences, places, and events in our lives right now – today – at this very moment.
As Martha Washington once wisely said, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”