This week I speculated in the office that the “Mister Men” books are in need of a modern re-write. We could have Mister Twitter and Little Miss Liposuction. She would start off looking regular enough, but slowly wither to an orange prune by the denouement, weeping in front of a mirror.
The latter reminded me of a book I read a few years ago which was a layman’s version of the latest in the science of Hedonics, the study of happiness.
The core of it was that by and large, apart from some local fluctuations, any given person’s happiness is steady over time. It always reverts to a relatively fixed baseline, and does so rather quickly. Researchers had searched high and low for things that might actually affect a person’s base happiness in the long-term, and found just four things that did this.
There was a negative impact if either a person was denied basic needs like food and shelter for extended periods, or suffered permanent disfigurement or disability like losing a limb. The two things that were found to reliably increase base happiness were the practice of meditation, and…erm…having a boob job. I’m not convinced having a boob job would make me any happier though, as I would file that under disfigurement.
Needless to say, this is not how people live. People are always getting and doing in the hope of greater happiness, despite all the evidence that basically nothing works. The book took some time to explain all this in terms of neurochemistry etc. The conclusion was that happiness is basically a con trick. A specifically evolved carrot on a stick. Our capacity for self-delusion is part of that evolved psychology, and it is this con trick and our delusions that drive most of human endeavour and achievement. If anything did actually make us happier, we would grind to a halt and stop striving. And we do it despite all evidence we are presented with that nothing actually makes any difference. Including this book.
It is often said that the key to healthy romantic relationships is to understand that they won’t make you happier. That you remain responsible for your own happiness. Most people would agree with that statement in principle.
OK. As an experiment, tonight go and tell your significant other that if they packed their bags and left tomorrow, you would not, in the long run, be any less happy without them than you are now. I’m sure that would go down a storm. I would actually rather approve. I think its healthy to consistently apply care and respect to someone else despite the fact that you know you would be just as well off in the happiness stakes without them. That has some meaning.
My own self-enforced lay-off from all things romantic continues apace, and I am gathering hard evidence daily that my happiness is completely independent of such things. I am hurtling toward a point where I don’t give a monkey’s whether I am single or “attached” because it doesn’t make any difference.
My gut says that…and here’s the killer… I’m a lot happier because of my new-found attitude.
I know that I am not. I’m no happier than I was last year. My capacity for delusion and rationalisation is as good as anyone else’s.