Is it me, or does it seem like happiness is a topic that has been getting more and more attention over the past couple of years?
There have been countless books, blog posts and articles written about where to find it, how to get it and how to keep it.
With all the recent talk about it, you’d think there would be enough tips to make finding happiness much easier.
But happiness can still seem elusive. Just when you think you’ve found it, something comes along to take it away.
Why is it so hard?
It comes down to human nature. We’re very complex. We all want different things and have different motivations.
The fact is that people are wired in such a way that makes finding happiness harder.
Here are those traits that make finding happiness so damn hard.
1. We can’t decide what happiness even is
How would you define happiness?
Ask this question to ten people and you could come up with eleven answers.
There are countless definitions of happiness out there. While they share some basic elements, they do have some radically different interpretations.
Merriam-Webster defines it as “a state of well-being and contentment.”
The ancient Greeks described it with the term eudaimonia which roughly combines two concepts: abundance and the power to control your destiny.
Ghandi said it’s “when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”
This is just a sample of hundreds of definitions.
It’s not as if happiness is a physical object. You can’t go to a store and point to it.
That makes it extremely difficult to describe. And since it’s hard to define, it’s hard to find.
Our desire for what makes us happy is ingrained in us. Yet our inability to accurately describe it is an obstacle keeping us away from it.
2. We always have to make trade-offs
I think most of us would agree that happiness at some basic level makes us feel good. So if we look at it that way, we should try to maximize those good feelings as much as possible.
If it were as simple as avoiding bad things and replacing them with good things, it would be easy.
But it isn’t always that easy. When making decisions about where we want our lives to go, it’s not usually about giving up something bad for something good. There are tradeoffs.
In order to get one good thing, we often have to give up another good thing.
For example, I consider my move from Minneapolis to Houston a good idea. My wife moved to a better job and we were both ready to go somewhere warm all year round.
Yet even though I knew it would improve my life, I was still sad. I missed Minneapolis the moment we left. It wasn’t a bad place to live at all; I loved it there.
A lot of decisions are like this.
Marrying my wife was one of the happiest days of my life. Every day I’m grateful to be with her.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my bachelor days. They were good too – just in a different way.
That’s how life is. We often have to give up something we love to get something we’ll love even more.
When making decisions about where we want our lives to go, we often have to sacrifice something we love. We can’t have it all – no matter how much we wish we could.
3. We can’t control happiness completely
If there is one piece of advice I read constantly about happiness, it is that it’s a choice. Choose to be happy or sad; it’s up to you.
The way people describe it, they seem to think choosing happiness is a cure-all. It’s as if that’s all you need.
Making yourself happy works, but only up to a certain point. Despite what we all want to believe, you can’t control it completely.
There are going to be situations and life circumstances that make you sad.
I’m expecting sad times to come my way in the future. People close to me will die one day – it’s going to happen at one point or another.
That situation will make me sad whether I choose to be sad or not.
Unhappy situations and circumstances do happen. And they’re not always within our control. But once again – that’s life.
Choosing happiness is a great way to feel better most of the time. But when tragedy strikes, those sad feelings will pop up.
4. We adapt too well to positive changes
How much will winning the lottery make you happy?
Well, reports from those who have actually won it show that happiness does go up significantly. At least at first.
Eventually that amazing feeling subsides and the joy of winning goes away.
Psychologists call this phenomenon “the hedonic treadmill”. It’s our ability to return to our previous level of happiness after a major positive life change.
Think of it like a hot bath. When you first get in, you can feel the heat. But eventually you adapt to it until you don’t even notice how hot the water is anymore.
The good news is that it works both ways. When bad things happen, you adapt and adjust until you reach the same level of happiness as before. That’s good when bad things happen.
It’s not so good when we want to bring a little more happiness into our lives.
Find Your Happiness
Of course, none of these things are insurmountable obstacles to finding happiness – they can all be overcome if you put your mind to it. They just make finding happiness harder.