Happiness is not sought: we stumble upon it

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Robert Maurer


Happiness is not sought: we stumble upon it

Last update: 02 November 2016

Happiness is not sought, we stumble upon it. It's simple and Daniel Gilbert reminds us of it in his best-seller “Stumbling on happiness” in which he analyzes the theories and realities about happiness in different ways.

This book is an exciting journey into how the mind works and how it plays with us. The aspects it involves are numerous, from the optical illusion to the influence on our mood of the opinions of people who have lived experiences similar to ours.

It also tells us that there is no simple formula for achieving happiness. However, our brain allows us to move forward, towards the future, and this is how we stumble into happiness. And you, how do you stumble? We invite you to reflect on this topic starting from the following key points.

Happiness is subjective and determined by closeness

Sometimes we forget that happiness is a subjective thing, especially when we see that someone wants to sell it as if it were a material and delimited good. Happiness is an experience and as such it is different in each individual and determined by circumstances.   

When we imagine situations that we may come to experience in the future, we realize that they exist two types of future. The immediate future, or what will happen tomorrow or in a few days, the credible and near future. And then, another farther future, located light years from what we live in now, a future that is difficult to perceive as real in this moment.

Many times we anchor ourselves to the present to the point of imagining our future concentrated in the present we are experiencing. For example, it is difficult for us to imagine the taste of a fruit that we will eat tomorrow if, while we imagine this sensation, we are keeping the taste occupied with another flavor.

In this case we speak of "presentism" and condemns our vision of things, even possible ones, because it keeps us anchored in some way to the present. It is not about constantly thinking about future, but to know that when we imagine it, we give it the possibilities of our present.  

When we imagine happiness, therefore, we believe that it has to do with what we dream now, while various studies have shown us the opposite. Happiness could be what we get when we don't get what we dream of now. That is to say, happiness can be hidden in what we do not even contemplate at this moment and in what fate could make us stumble.

The intolerance of uncertainty and the importance of control

The human being does not tolerate uncertainty. In fact, we might think that uncertainty opens up a world of infinite possibilities, and that this is a positive aspect. Unfortunately the human being mainly focuses on the feeling of lack of power and the importance of control, rather than thinking about the positive things that could happen.  

Faced with uncertainty, moreover, the human being seeks explanations for the events that occur around him. Especially when these events are inexplicable, which amplifies their emotional achievement, because they are infrequent and we tend to constantly think about them.

For this and other reasons, Daniel Gilbert tells us that we usually stumble upon happiness, even if we can't see it because our brains set traps for us. It does this by comparing our happiness with that of others, even knowing that it is a subjective thing and that perhaps we, in the same circumstances, would not feel like those we believe to be happy.

Think: what if happiness were the ability to accept that everything can change? What if happiness is something we can't control? What if happiness is moving towards the future and understanding what our brains trip us into before reaching it?

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