Quit Buying Happiness & Start Creating It

Forget keeping up with the Jones’ and start keeping up with yourself.

Recent events are pushing many over the edge. Hold on, I’m not trying to start a political debate, but instead want to discuss the rising cases of something else: anxiety, insecurity, depression, loneliness, boredom just-not-having-it.

In this state, one feels a certain pulsing that reverberates through every fiber of existence. That hammering is a fight or flight reflex that’s been triggered by the excessive amounts of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) that they call normal.

And you know the other theys who know about those excess hormones flooding your brain? The big-conglomerate companies that are hoping you BUY your way back to happiness. Perfect marketing campaigns prey on the unsuspecting with the perfect “Deal of the Day” to get any and all to type in their 16-digit embossed number, full cardholder name with middle initial, shipping, and billing address (that may not match), and 3-digit security code.

All leading to a record-breaking year for Black Friday with consumers spending $9 billion on one single Friday after piously giving thanks for the bounty of a “good job, w/ dental!” Compare it to 2019’s number and see if you can extrapolate a trendline… ahem…. $7.4 billion. Talk about pursuing the “pleasant life.”

In economics, there’s a theory of Diminishing Returns.

The long and short is this: you might go buy a hamburger because you’re really hungry. That first hamburger will get you X amount of “jolly.” Later, you’re hungry again and remember how happy you were with your last hamburger, so you buy another. This hamburger, though, won’t get you as happy as the first, you have a DIMINISHED amount of marginal jolly. Your hamburger purchase benefits continue to decline until, one day, you barely receive any pleasure from said hamburger. Or worse yet, it causes a deep sickness and…yep, you guessed it negative jolly.

I definitely have spent more than I care to admit trying to buy hamburgers wine, flavored-machine-swirled-soft-serve-ice-cream, movies, clothing… all to create bright spots in my week. But it never works as well as is hoped for.

In the end, the pervasive realization that buying didn’t get me any happier (or jollier) is hard to escape.

And before I head to a royalty-themed dairy/sugar store to snap out of this slump, perhaps it’s time to pivot and take a different approach.

When it comes to the psychology of happiness, they (another of many) say there are 3 paths to fulfillment. It starts with the “pleasant life,” when you have all the things. You know what I mean when one finally gets “the car/house/job and is supposed to be satisfied until the end of eternity. Don’t believe it? Watch the Edward Norton character fill his apartment up from Ikea in the fine piece of visual literature that is Fight Club. In the end, this happiness habituates and only lingers for a short amount of time (like getting that first oil change.)

What gives lasting happiness (as psychologists posit) are passion and purpose.

Passion, meaning a hobby, skill, or project that you feed every day as if your life depends on it. Imagine doing an activity when all of a sudden 4 hours have passed in the blink of an eye (AKA flow.) With projects and skill growth come goals; doesn’t matter whether you set these goals or they set themselves, meeting them still feels positively prodigious.

And there is purpose. People wonder why they were put on this earth, ultimately leading towards religion or other philosophies to fill the void. Whatever you choose to do, you must know the purpose of your life and your days.

A wiser man than me once said “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often” -John Henry Newman. Finding that purpose for change and exercising the skills to get there can be fulfilling in and of itself…without the help of the various ‘theys’ vying for you to fill a cart and checkout.

In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.” John Henry Newman

Shifting your lifestyle to center on a skill or purpose is one way to make an everyday change. And for the sake of this blog, I must mention… the outdoors can facilitate a myriad of paths to happiness. 

With 2020 wrapping up, isn’t now a great time to choose to focus your life on your passion for hiking? Or perhaps your drive to be eco-friendly and save the environment? Forget keeping up with the Jones’ and start keeping up with yourself.

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This post was written by Annie Schmitz, December 2020.

Annie standing at the Lincoln Waterfowl Production area during a gravel bike ride.

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