Harold Kushner, the rabbi, author and teacher who wrote the best seller, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” wrote another book I reread recently.
The book is titled “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: The Search for a Life that Matters.”
When I first read the book, I wondered if there are lots of people who feel this way. I know I have certainly felt like that at times. It appears we never feel satisfied with what we have and are constantly wanting more. But why?
Here is what I have discovered. According to Sonja Lyubromirsky, we all have a “happiness set point.” It’s partly genetic. If good things happen, your sense of happiness rises. If bad things happen, it falls.
However, no matter what happens, good or bad, your happiness will reset itself to its genetically prone set point. This odd phenomenon is called “hedonic adaptation.” You can Google it if you’re curious.
My concern here is this: Can we reset our happiness set point?
As a matter of fact, we can.
Certainly, it's human to want what you don’t have or be envious of others who have something you want, or to want someone who doesn’t want you. Happiness set point refers to where your happiness lies in relation to events. Are you happy right now? If you are, good. If not, then your happiness set point may need some tweaking. It all boils down to being content with what we have, who we are and who we are with.
Let’s examine it further, shall we. How do you feel about lowering expectations? That may not always be good — just lowering your expectations in certain situations leads to not achieving your full potential. But on the other hand, always chasing something that is elusive is not good either. There are reasons why people who have all they ever wanted but are still not happy. A sine qua non needs to be reached if we are to be really happy.
We need to take a closer look at our expectations and weigh them against our abilities, or dare I say, genetic propensities.
For instance, most of us are not born as musical prodigies. But some of us really want to learn and play music. That’s good in and of itself. However, we must understand that we may never be able to write a concerto to rival the likes of Mozart. We need to be OK with that.
Matching our talents and abilities with realism is the key.
What is realistic for you, given your talents and abilities, is the solution to the problem. We all have talents and abilities — we just don’t all have the same talents and abilities. Taking a realistic look at what we can do and achieve will give us a unique advantage and help us gain new self-awareness.
We must match our expectations to the realities of what we can do. This will help to reset our happiness set point. Realistically, decreasing expectations is sometimes hard to do, and not something we have been taught to do. But if we want to reach our full potential, our desires and wants must be in line with our talents and abilities.
We must learn to accept reality. The reality is you may never be president of the United States, but you can be a gourmet chef. We can’t deny reality or your genetics — we must embrace both. If we are always striving for what is not achievable that only leads to anxiety and unhappiness.
It is essential and important to celebrate the person you are, not the one you have conjured up in your mind. If you celebrate who you are and your achievements, even the small ones, contentment will follow. When contentment happens, happiness will inevitably follow. When you celebrate wins, it focuses your attention on the positive.
Learn to express gratitude for your talents, abilities and what you have achieved. Express gratitude for what you already have — even the small things, like that morning cup of coffee. Or the big things, like your family.
So how do you reset your happiness set point? You align your expectancies with reality. Know what you can realistically do and achieve and work toward those ends.
Be content with achievements. Don’t live your life by always wanting more or something different.
Live in reality. You can have most anything you want, just not everything you want.
Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.