September 6, 2022 by Dymphna

T-Bomb: How to make happiness stay

Truth Bomb Tuesday: Happiness is hard to find and even harder to hold.

Have a guess. How much happiness do you think you can handle at time?

3 hours? 8 hours? 12 hours?

Nup. Scientists have measured it. Want to know how much happiness the average person can handle?

4 seconds.

That’s it.

Maybe if you’re a particularly contented person, or have practiced some stillness or mindfulness skills you can extend it out a bit.

But studies seem to show that for most people, happiness lasts about 4 seconds.

That’s the time it takes for the pleasure we’re deriving from a situation to give way to distraction – distracting thoughts about what to eat next, what to say to Alan next time he calls, or “is this hot tub looking a little tired, maybe I need a new one?”

Pleasure is fleeting and we’re usually the ones chasing it away.

But what does it mean if we’re only ever capable of experiencing 4 seconds of happiness?

Of course there are experiences that are enjoyable and last longer than that. Take a massage for example. 90 bucks buys you an hour and a half of bliss. But built into these experiences is an element of novelty.

That masseuse’s hands are constantly moving. It’s constantly stimulating. He presses his thumb into that tight spot in your neck for a moment, and it’s great. But if he left his thumb there for an hour and a half it would be a painful (and awkward) experience.

Same goes for watching a movie or riding a jet-ski or whatever. Happiness can be extended if we keep renewing the experience.

But unless we’re hitting the refresh button, happiness only lasts about 4 seconds.

This is kind of ridiculous isn’t it?

Most of us live our lives in the pursuit of happiness – would say that a ‘happy life’ is one worth living. In fact, the right to do whatever makes us happy is even one of the foundational principals in the rule of law.

And think about whatever it is you’re working on now. Whatever project is taking up your energy. Whether it’s building a solid property portfolio, or renovating your PPI, or planning the golden years of retirement.

What if I told you that the most you could expect from your endeavours is 4 seconds of happiness?

It hardly seems worth it.

But I’m not trying to burst your bubble. And I’m definitely not about to tell you to buy a big screen tv and try not to think about it.

But I do think there’s a lot of wisdom in recognising the reality of the situation. Learning how to be satisfied is one of the great challenges of this journey. I see a lot of what we’d call rich and successful people still under siege from the wolves of distraction and discontent.

Just one more house. Just one more car. Just one more aviation company…

And I actually wonder if it’s better to think about happiness not as a state, but as a skill.

And maybe we all need to learn the skill of enduring happiness.

So next time you find yourself in a pleasing situation, practice being still in your pleasure. Practice resisting the mind’s urge to move on to the next “problem”.

Practice being, and staying, happy.

Like any skill, you’ll only get better with practice.