If you, like me, are a little bit baffled by what ‘International Happiness Day’ is meant to mean, then you are not alone. What does it say about the remaining 364 days of the year? Are they meant to be ‘Misery Days?! That aside, I’m sure we all agree that we’d like to be happier, but the important question is how?
As a thesis for my Experimental Psychology degree, I tested out the theory that happiness is, in fact, relational, not absolute. In other words, we would be very contented with our lot, if our neighbours did not appear to have so much more than us. To test this, I travelled to Delhi to assess two groups of people: 1) Those who have lived in India all their lives and never travelled 2) Those who have travelled to other countries. There was a marked difference in happiness levels. In short, those who had never travelled or ‘seen how the other half live’ were much happier than those who had. Of course, this was carried out back in the 1980s (that’s how old I am!) before everyone was looking at everyone else’s lives via the internet on a regular basis.
I think this little insight is critical when we consider our own happiness levels. When you actually assess our ‘lot’ in the modern age, it is actually a staggeringly good one! For example, we are approximately 64 times wealthier than those living in the 1930s and yes, that does take into account inflation and the modern cost of goods. In other words, we have way more than our ancestors ever had or could imagine having.
We are not living in a time of world wars, or old fashioned dentistry! We have better diets and way better healthcare and are living much longer. And yet, we are, apparently, more miserable than ever. Why? Because we are continually comparing ourselves to not only those around us, but all those we see portrayed on the internet, via social media or the TV. We are looking further afield than we were evolutionary prepared to and it is making us envious and scared.
We evolved to assess our immediate surroundings to see how well we could expect to do or to assess any imminent threats which may be present. Our brains simply cannot compute where to place ourselves relative to a global stage of promise and threats.
So, on ‘International Happiness Day’, let’s try not to worry too much about Brexit, whether we remain or leave, it really won’t be as cataclysmic as anything our ancestors went through. Let’s try to stop comparing ourselves with everyone else today and try to compare ourselves relative to history. We are exceedingly fortunate and there’s a reason to celebrate.