I will be publishing weekly advice for all you eager University of Michigan students. Let’s start!
So, people want a lot of things in life. They want a big mansion, a Ferrari, or becoming a billionaire by starting a company. But I think more than anything else, they want happiness. We want the things that bring us happiness. Isn’t that correct?
Now in the last half a century, Americans have gotten a lot of things they wanted. We are richer, we live longer, we have access to technology that has enabled us to connect worldwide directly and quickly. The paradox of happiness is that even though we have everything now (maybe not exactly “everything”) that help to improve our lives dramatically, we haven’t actually gotten any happier.
Maybe because these conventional notions of progress haven’t delivered big, big benefits in terms of happiness, there’s been an increased interest in happiness itself. People debate about the cause of happiness for a long time, but it still remains unresolved. We’ve learned how things like income and education, gender and marriage relate to happiness. But one of the puzzles this revealed is that these factors don’t have a particularly strong effect. Yes, it’s definitely better to make more money rather than less, or to graduate from college instead of dropping out, but the differences in happiness tend to be small.
This leaves us to a major question: what are the big causes of happiness? I think maybe happiness has a whole lot to do with the contents of our moment-to-moment experience. It seems that who we are with, what we are thinking about have big influences on our happiness, but these are the factors that have been very difficult, yet impossible, for scientists to study.
As human beings, we have this ability to stray our thoughts away from the present. You can sit on your computer, do some coding, and yet you can start thinking about the vacation you had with your boyfriend or girlfriend last month, or wondering about what to eat this afternoon. Or, maybe you can be calculating the amount of years it will take to get a 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-class. This ability to focus our attention on something other than the present is really amazing. You can learn and plan and reason in ways that no other species can. You probably heard people say that you should stay focused on the present. Maybe, to really be happy, we need to stay completely immersed on our experience in the moment. Maybe those people are right. Maybe too much mind-wandering is a bad thing. When our minds wander, we can be thinking of anything. We are not constrained in our little box. Since we know people want to be happy, maybe when our minds wander, they’re going somewhere happier, far, far away from where they are in the present. That makes sense. In other words, maybe the pleasures of the mind allows us to be happier with mind-wandering.
So, since you know mind-wandering makes you happy, you wander frequently. You continue to wander so much that it’s ubiquitous. It pervades basically everything you do. You are conditioned to this kind of comfortable feeling that when you are forced to come back into the moment, you feel a sudden wave of disappointment. You are distressed. You cannot resist yourself from mind-wandering again. You have what I call it, “Happiness Addiction.”
We live every day in the present, so our success can only happen in the present. So, stay in the moment. While in the moment, strive for the things you are passionate about. It is healthy to have “Happiness Addiction” when your actions exist here with us on Earth.
Have Fun and Go Blue!