Each of us is the director and the star of our own film. We have the ability to redirect our thoughts and choose thoughts that make us feel empowered–even during the crappy times. This is what helps us to thrive: directing our movie and redirecting our thoughts.
Personal happiness may be the most studied facet of human life in the psychology field. Just a brief search in a library database of scholarly journals produces thousands of results featuring research and assessments on human happiness; not to mention the endless selection of titles in the self-help section of your local bookstore.
The Declaration of Independence tells us happiness is one of our certain unalienable rights parents always express their wish for their children to achieve happiness as they grow to adulthood and The Beatles have been telling us happiness is a warm gun since 1968’s White Album. For most of us in the Western world, achieving happiness is of paramount importance.
In well-developed, wealthy nations like the United States, happiness if often measured in the procurement of a respected career path, the money that results from said career and the tangible good that are possible to obtain because of the money earned. Psychologists, sociologists and economists are fascinated by this cycle and the hypothesis stating that money and things directly relate to human happiness. But is that really the case? Do individuals with more actually find greater happiness than those individuals with less?
Yes and no, say researchers of a 2010 study featured in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. In their article It’s not the money, it’s the quest for a happier self: the role of happiness and success motives in the link between financial goals and subjective well-being, researchers found that job success and money are indirectly instrumental in allowing humans to achieve some semblance of happiness as it provides a relief from poverty, and supplies resources that allow basic human needs to be met. However, once basic quality of life issues are attended to, money is often superfluous to happiness and subjective well-being.
As Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness suggests, there may be a huge difference between the happiness quotient of an individual who earns $10,000 per year and an individual who earns $50,000 per year – simply because this earning gap is the difference between poverty and middle class. However, the happiness quotient of an individual who earns $100,000 per year in relation to someone who earns $5 million is relatively the same. Gilbert continues to state, “Economists explain that wealth has ‘declining marginal utility’, which is a fancy way of saying that it hurts to be hungry, cold, sick, tired and scared, but once you’ve bought your way out of these burdens, the rest of your money is an increasingly useless pile of paper.”
Then, why do people, namely Americans, feel the need to consume as a way to achieve happiness? The western world puts a large emphasis on the consumption of money and tangible goods as an outward expression of power, status and worth. It’s a tool of survival in a materialistic society – a society that grows more materialistic with each new generation.
A PBS documentary, titled Affluenza, which originally aired over a decade ago suggests that allowing money and things to have too much power over your individual happiness is a social disease that began shortly after World War II. Although consumerism is necessary for the prosperity and propagation of the United States economy, I think we are all very aware of what happens when overt consumerism gets out of hand. Affluenza suggests that the balance between money and happiness peaked during the late 1950s and has declined since. It has been argued that individuals with more actually experience higher rates of stress anxiety than their cohorts that consume less (as long as basic needs are met).
Didn’t Biggie and Diddy tell us this back in the ‘90s? Mo’ money, mo’ problems!
The odd part of the money/happiness correlation in Western society is that the ability to consume does not necessarily prompt the consumers to feel more grateful for who they are or for what they have. It is interesting to notice how in the recent economic downturn, when identity and happiness are no longer able to be derived from money and possessions, how many people are forced to turn inward or to their family and friends to the find happiness they once found externally.
Money is a necessary component of life and there is no denying that the occasional purchase does cause elevated dopamine levels in the brain and hence a temporary euphoria. Earning money and being a consumer of products is not the problem, but rather a problem arises when people expect their entire scope of happiness to hinge on these things.
As we arrive at the beginning of another holiday season, we are given an opportunity to assess our own happiness and reflect on what we are thankful for. Surrounded by your loved ones on Thanksgiving Day, when it is your turn to share what you are thankful for, your mind will likely turn to much more basic, emotionally driven thoughts – gratitude for your family and friends, your health, etc.
I very much doubt you would express your gratitude for your shiny new car, fancy new watch or the huge bonus you will receive next month. And even if these items are on your list of things to be thankful for, try to squeeze grandma in there somewhere.
Halloween isn’t the only time of year some of us walk around in disguise. Some of us “trick or treat” on a daily basis; we “trick” ourselves into believing we can manipulate our emotions and “treat” those same emotions as if they aren’t really there. We walk around with masks of joy and happiness painted on our tired faces, hoping no one else takes notice of what is happening deep inside. And often they don’t. But the problem with emotional masks is that the slightest incident can bring the masquerade to a halt, unveiling whatever we’re trying to hide underneath. These emotional masks can even send us to breaking point.
A lot of people misinterpret what it means to be in “control” of your emotions. We often hear the word “control” and we relate it to the concept of having “power over.” This misconception may lead us to believe that if we are still feeling strongly about a certain emotion, than we are not assuming “power” over those emotions, and therefore we are not in control. But being in “control” of your emotions is less about manipulating your feelings than it is about increasing your emotional awareness. You have to allow yourself to feel negative feelings as they arise. This is the only way you’ll be able to identify the source of those feelings and further understand how to cope with those emotions.
Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize your emotional responses and manage them in a healthy way. People often attempt to cope with their feelings by avoiding them entirely and pretending everything is okay. They distract themselves with external stimuli or begin to engage in risky emotional and physical behaviors. Others resort to sticking with the emotional mask they find most comfortable.
For example, someone feeling inadequate, fearful, or insecure may result to bullying and constantly appear to be angry or mean. They are attempting to use this mask of anger as a disguise for what they are really feeling. Because they have not learned to properly cope with their emotions, they pick on others and shut people out as a part of their coping mechanism.
According to Jeanne Segal, Ph.D, Melinda Smith, M.A.; and Lawrence Robinson (authors of the article “Emotion Communicates: The Powerful Role Emotions Play in All Relationships”):
Raising your emotional awareness and emotional intelligence begins with the question: “What kinds of sensory input instantly make me feel relaxed, safe, calm, and focused?” Once you have a safety net in place and know how to make yourself feel good quikly and dependably, you can begin to explore the emotions that seem disagreeable or frightening.
There are several consequences in avoiding our emotions and feelings, including emotional exhaustion and shutting down your ability to feel positive emotions such as happiness and love. In order to avoid numbing ourselves entirely and the risk of damaging our relationships, we must learn to cope with our feelings in a positive and healthy way. To learn more about emotional awareness, visit Helpguide.org and read the full article quoted above, titled “Emotion Communicates: The Powerful Role Emotions Play in All Relationships.” Helpguide.org is a trusted, non-profit emotional wellness site directed by a group of social workers and psychologists. Check it out!
Advice / content offered anywhere on Holly Pinafore Magazine (www.hollypinafore.org) is educational in nature and should not be considered to be a substitute for therapy. We take no responsibility for your actions as a result of you reading our content. However, we do love you!