How to find happiness in places you’ve stopped looking for it

I’m writing this article on a phone I’ve had for 2 years now. It functions remarkably well though it bears the marks of having been used (and abused!) for a while— there are scratches on the screen guard, the edges of the cover are bruised too because I’ve dropped my phone on the ground multiple times. Too many times to count, in fact.

In the first month that I owned this phone, the idea of seeing a scratch on the screen was unpalatable. Dropping it carelessly was out of the question! I held it as though holding it with too strong a grip would cause it to disintegrate.

Today, I’m tapping too hard on the screen as if that will make the words flow easily. I know that once I’ve published the article, I may just casually toss the phone on the couch/put it on the kitchen counter/ forget where I’ve put it and not feel especially bad about it.

It’s funny because I acquired this phone at a stage in my life when being able to afford a gadget as fancy as this was a stretch goal. I remember saving up, looking for offers to get the best deal and waiting with bated breath for its arrival.

It’s obvious that I am taking my phone for granted at this stage in my life. It even feels like a natural thing to do.

This is a large scale phenomenon.

You could have your dream job right now which was seemingly out of reach five years ago. And yet, as you read this today, you’re not exactly overjoyed at the realisation that you have in your hands what you once only dreamed of having.

In fact, you might even be a little bored or upset.

We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires. — Bill Irvine

When these newer and grander desires are fulfilled, one might feel compelled to go after something even better to fill this hole. The scientific term for this tendency is “Hedonic adaptation”.

It is the tendency to adapt to a positive change in one’s life by making it seem normal, commonplace and even bourgeois.

It’s not wrong to be a little dissatisfied with life. The only caveat here is to ensure that the Hedonic treadmill does not turn you into a person that’s only living for the next high.

Because the next high will never be enough. While we’re chasing after these highs, it is easily possible to spend our entire life feeling incomplete, inadequate and unfulfilled.

It’s like a race that has no finish line, a goal post that keeps moving further and further away, the closer you get to it. Before you know it, most of your life has passed you by and you’re still looking for the missing piece.

Logically, you’re fully aware that this job you have, this carefully curated set of friends you’ve made and indeed this device that you’re holding in your hand as you read this, even this standard of living that you’re ‘bored’ of, were all things that you didn’t have at one point in your life.

Yet there’s just no emotion there anymore.

How do you begin to rekindle the flames of happiness out of these beautiful but underrated joys of life?

There are three ways that have worked exceptionally well for me:

  • Gratitude journaling — I got into the habit of writing down three things I’m grateful for in my life or three things that happened on that day that I thought were worth appreciating with a moment of gratitude. Little gestures like these allow me to bask in the warmth of gratitude that I would normally ignore if not for the conscious effort I make while journaling. You’d be surprised at the number of things that come into focus when you sit down to write in your gratitude journal. There’s nothing more comforting than being reminded of how rich your life is. Take the time to savour the ineffable and the intangible beauty that you’re a part of.
  • 5 year test — Whenever I feel low or unconfident, I ask myself what I have today that I didn’t have five years ago. And suddenly, I am reminded of how far I’ve come and how hard I’ve worked. My gratitude levels go right up and I feel good about myself too. I feel empowered to do more with my life with a renewed faith in my abilities.
  • The ‘what do you envy about me’ question — I learnt this one from Vivek Ishwar. When I can’t seem to find anything to be happy or grateful about, I ask a few close friends what they envy about me or my life. Every time I do this I am surprised at the insane amount of things in my life that I undervalue on a consistent basis! It’s true what they say, someone else could be praying right now for something you already have. Remember to treasure what you have. Don’t become the person who only realises the value of something after it’s gone.

Dumbledore said,

Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if one only remembers to turn on the light

It’s up to you to dust off your internal flashlight of gratitude and shine a clear beam on your own life.

Begin today. You might surprise yourself.

Good luck!

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