I read an interesting blog post today at Fake Plastic Trees titled The Paradox of Pleasure. It didn’t pertain to mental illness, but rather happiness and our pursuit of it. Here’s a partial quote that I found thought provoking.
Which would make you a happier person, winning the lottery or being in a car crash that leaves you paraplegic?
The answer to this apparently illogical question is, well, neither. Studies show that people who go through these radically different life experiences tend to revert, over time, to their previous level of satisfaction. Winning the lottery will send you to cloud nine for a while, but in a couple of months you’ll be back to where you started, no matter what you do with the money. Even more interestingly, ending up in a wheelchair will destroy you morale in the short run, but over the same amount of time you will aga- in fall back to roughly the same happiness level as before the accident (psychologists call this your set point).
This rather disconcerting trait of human nature is called Hedonic Adaptation, and it was first studied in the 1970s, analyzing precisely the effects of lottery wins and debilitating accidents. Humans have an amazing ability to adjust to the hardships of life: that’s how people carry on after devastating losses and terrible misfortunes. On a more philosophical level, this also means that single life events, no matter how bad or good, do not necessarily alter our existence …
So – as someone who struggles with emotions, and happiness being one of them, I find myself REALLY thinking hard about this. It makes me wonder about lasting happiness, rather than fleeting moments of it, sought amongst flair-ups of temper and bought of depression. What IS my previous level of satisfaction anyway? I am truly intrigued by this. Maybe utter happiness is my base level, but I’ve only dance around it for the last five decades. Maybe I’ll only ever know these brief episodes of happiness. I hope not. I would much prefer to find that I am destined to be one of the world’s joyful souls – even if it comes about in the second half of my life. I’m there now, and more than willing for the time to have arrived. 🙂