At each stage of your life, there are one to a few things about which you think “If only I had this/these, everything would be great”.
Some things you go on to get, and some things you don’t.
Of the ones you do, some bring a short term boost of happiness which eventually fades away, and some, contrary to your expectations, are either neutral or surprisingly actually cause unhappiness.
We can’t not wish for our futures. It’s engrained in us as the result of thousands of years of evolution, and it’s what keeps us going.
But whatever happiness we believe having a few arbitrary things in the future will bring, we actually already have. We’re just wired to not be able to see it without deeper reflection.
I spent a lot of time with our son over the last 2 days. He’s 5 months old.
As I was playing with him, I found myself hoping that he’d have a healthy and happy life.
I then realized what I didn’t hope for him. I didn’t hope for him to be powerful, wealthy, famous, handsome, or for him to have other externally visible measures of success.
If he also has one or more of these externally visible measures of success, that will be great. But they are only valuable if they’re built on top of a healthy and happy life.
What I know to be true for this person who I care so much about is true for each of us.
In an earlier post, I wrote about the meaning which you get from producing, and how I believe that it’s worth trading off some short-term happiness for that meaning.
This post is a short observation on the other side of the equation, that is consuming. Consuming doesn’t generate meaning but it does produce a short-term burst of happiness.
When consuming something that you need to pay for, there’s a general correlation between how much you pay and the short-term happiness that you get from the product. For must product categories, the more you pay the higher the quality of the product that you’re able to consume and therefore the greater the short-term happiness that you get from consuming it.
However, in many product categories, this correlation breaks down after a certain point. After a certain point, you’re no longer paying for the higher quality of the product but the social signal that using that product sends to other people, or more accurately the social signal that you believe using that product sends to other people.
When you cross the line where you begin to pay more for a product because of its social signaling value, you’ve effectively agreed to make your happiness dependent on other people’s perception of you. And that’s a fickle source of happiness.