I’m not much of an artist but yesterday I bought colouring pencils and drew some of the things that have been circling my mind. The graph above is one of them.
The graph could be a representation of an economy – with booms and busts circling around a stable trend. Yet initially I drew it as a representation of happiness.
There is a vast amount of research about how events in our life impact our happiness levels. Illness or rejection in our personal or professional life cause busts. Promotions, new friendships, new opportunities are booms. Yet after some time we adapt, and our happiness level reverts back to our natural trend. This is usually called the hedonic treadmill (Kahneman, Daniel, Edward Diener, and Norbert Schwarz, eds. Well-being: Foundations of hedonic psychology. Russell Sage Foundation, 1999.)
Some economies grow sustainably; while they experience booms and busts like everybody else, their average is higher. The same goes for people. Being an optimist makes life easier because the average of the booms and busts will simply be a much higher steady state happiness level.
The real trick is figuring out what has the potential to increase this average. These factors are much less tangible than a new car, new dress, or – in the case of an economy – the entrance of baby boomers into the workforce.
It’s things like good institutions, a stable political system, a good business environment, the internet. For humans – a sense of purpose, being comfortable with oneself, and the knowledge that ultimately one is not alone. Vague, vague, vague terms. No wonder we read about them, forget about them the next day, and start worrying about the presentation we have to give on Tuesday.
Edit – 9.05.2016
This reiterates my point.