What Makes Us Happy?

lottery winnerWhat would make you happier – Winning a couple of hundred million dollars in the next Powerball drawing or being involved in an accident that resulted in you being confined to a wheelchair for life?

Well that’s a silly question, right? I’m sure everyone would agree that winning the lottery would provide us with infinitely more happiness than becoming a paraplegic.

And it turns out that everyone is wrong. But more about that in a minute.

About a month ago, my dad was using a chainsaw to trim tree branches around a deer hunting stand 14 feet above the forest floor. The ladder he was standing on shifted unexpectedly and he fell to ground, crushing his 7th thoracic vertebra and paralyzing him from the mid back down. He’s never expected to walk again.

There are a million other ways that fall to Earth could have ended and most of them involve my father bleeding to death in the woods. But he’s alive and I have complete confidence that he is going to go on to live a healthy, productive, and, yes, happy life.

Daddy told me just tonight that his situation isn’t what he would have chosen for himself but all he can do is make the best of it and live the life he has as it is now.

My father is a strong, strong man, but he’s not an anomalie. He’s the norm.

According to research from Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert and presented in the TED video below, one year after their trauma. paraplegics are equally as happy as people who won the lottery a year earlier.

Dramatic life events, all our hopes and dreams and worries and fears, have little to no effect on our happiness after just 3 months passage of time.

Abraham Lincoln was right. “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Most of us us are waiting for our real lives to start. Hinging our hopes for happiness on some future something. Everything will be OK if I can just (meet someone, lose weight, get a raise/promotion). Or even worse we delay happiness because of fear or worry about what might happen if we (lose our job, have an accident, get sick).

We let an imaginary there and then fuck up a perfectly good here and now.

When the truth is, scientists and philosophers have shown over and over again that happiness is not dependent upon, correlated with or caused by external factors.

Happiness is an internal function and we manufacture it in our heads.

Your brain can be a happiness factory or a misery factory and which one it becomes is entirely and completely up to you.

The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” – John Milton

Our brain lies to us and tells us all the things that we think will make us happy so we chase happiness around the world fighting wars, leaving spouses, buying more stuff, quitting good jobs. And happiness remains ever just outside our reach.

When the happiness we seek is within us all along if we’d just quit looking so damn hard.

The stuff you have now is fine. The life you have now is amazing. You, my friend are a bona fide miracle. Eternity and all the forces in the universe have conspired to bring you to exactly this place and this time. This here and this now.

Don’t squander the countless blessings you have seeking ones you don’t.

Terry LancasterTerry Lancaster is the VP of Making S#!% Happen at Instant Events Automotive Advertising, father of 3 teenage daughters and a Beer League Hockey All Star, as if there could ever be such a thing.

You can connect with Terry on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.