maximizing your happiness range

the gretchen rubin design matters podcast episode was really a gold mine. i’m putting her work on my reading list today. 

as gretchen explained her happiness project, she mentioned a framework that essentially sounds like a happiness range. it sounded like the premise was this: everyone’s happiness can be measured on scale from 1-10. maybe she’s made a test for this, maybe it came from somewhere else, maybe there’s nothing; i couldn’t really tell.

either way, the most interesting part of her thinking was that everyone has a natural happiness resting state and a range. so, for example, maybe my resting state of happiness is 7, but my full range might be 6-9. i might never be a 10, there are practical things i can do to keep me closer to 9. there are also things i can do that keep me closer to 6.

those things are my habits.

now, i can’t remember if this next conceptual leap was hers or mine, but either way, it’s important (i think).

humans are stasis machines (there’s an episode of onbeing about this, but i can’t find it…). we are incredible at returning to a balance point. there are many studies showing that even when traumatic things happen, the impact those events have on people’s happiness over time doesn’t last (when i find that episode, i’ll find the referenced studies). even from deaths in the family, major injuries, and worse, people return to their original state of happiness after a surprisingly short amount of time. crazy, right?

ok. last conceptual leap before tying it all together. in this other post, i wrote about gretchen’s thinking on how a surprising consistency among highly functioning was good habits. this was surprising because the researcher’s hypothesis was that high-functioning people would stand apart because of strong self-control. turns out, those people actually exert less than the average person on a daily basis. :O

all of this evidence points to one conclusion (and these are gretchen’s words): what’s really important is what you do all the time, not what you do every once in a while.

the implications on happiness of this are really profound (and also zen in simplicity). it means that if you’re not regularly doing things that support your well-being and happiness, you’re unlikely to just arrive in a happy place someday.

this means that saving up all your vacation time so that you can have an awesome two week trip isn’t going to make you happier. the joy or happiness from that trip will fade because that’s how humans work.*

this also means that owning that perfect house in your dream location with a great family isn’t going to make you much happier in the long run. it’s way more important to have daily habits and practices that help you live a good life day to day.

and in a way, that’s pretty freeing, actually. cool stuff. thank you, gretchen!

* of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take vacations and there are many good reasons to do so. just don’t list happiness as one of them.