Why aren’t we happy yet?

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If you ask yourself, what is one thing that I want out of life? Most of us will say things like, good health, long life, success, and happiness. For a country that has everything right at its finger tips, why is happiness so hard to obtain? Why is it that when we travel to more rural areas, or go on a vacation to place like Mexico, and Jamaica (out of country travel has been pretty limited), every person we encounter seems so much happier, says hello to others, laughs and smiles?

Sonja Lyubomirsky researched thousands of men and women and came up with a kind of pie chart breaking down happiness.

We assume that our happiness is dictated by good or bad things happening to us. When in reality, only 10% of circumstances contribute to happiness. There is a quote I have loved for years by Aurther D Saftlass, “Realize you can be happy this moment for no reason. Otherwise, you eternally depend on conditions for happiness. Unconscious of this moment, you remain a victim to circumstances.” When something bad happens in life, humans have been found to bounce back pretty quickly. Even though at the time it feels like the world is ending, i.e. High school relationship, loss of job, etc. When something good happens, that feeling of euphoria and happiness can be taken away quickly by something as small as a stubbed toe while celebrating said happiness.
It is found that each person is born with a genetic set point for happiness that makes up 50% of our happiness.(2) No matter what happens, good or bad, we will return to our set point of happiness. You might of heard that depression could be genetic, this plays into that.
The other 40% that is left over is intentional activity; what we choose to do to make us happy, changes we make. The best intentional activity to increase happiness has been found to be physical activity. Why? Because with physical activity, there is a release of dopamine. Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter in the brain that controls happiness and pleasure. The scary thing is that as you age, dopamine in the body decreases. You know the phrase use it or lose it? Well that applies to dopamine as well. Start now, seek out experiences that you need dopamine for, hiking, swimming, running, biking, kickball, mountain climbing, tennis cross country skiing, etc. (yes that can also include having sex)(sorry mom and dad). One activity that stands out that screams happiness is surfing. Have you ever seen an unhappy surfer, beachy hair, tan skin, and the common shaka sign given by smiling surfers. I have never been surfing, and most likely never will surf, but since I was a kid I was captivated by it. I was fascinated with the power the water, the fluidity of the surfer and the wave. Some of my favorite books are about surfing. Saltwater Buddha and Barbarian Days: A surfing life. These writers, speak of surfers including themselves, that surf until old age. To them surfing isn’t just a way of life, a religion, but it’s what keeps them happy, it’s their harmony with nature, it’s their daily dopamine release, and most in that community are happy needing little more than only the waves. Plus, they are constantly in the sun receiving vitamin D that’s been proven to improve mood. Win win in my book.


There was a gallup study done is 2013 by The American Institute of Public Opinion, to find out what country had the happiest citizens. Participants were asked whether they felt joy, whether they felt rested, how often they laughed and smiled, whether they felt respected by their peers, as well as whether they learned something new the day before. It was discovered that citizens of the poorest countries were the happiest. The list of the happiest countries was topped by El Salvador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Trinidad and Tobago. How can people with so little be so happy and satisfied? Scientists explain this by historically formed mentality of these people who see happiness in things other than material goods. According to them, people in poor countries can find joy in the moral satisfaction that often is not available to citizens of the developed countries. An example of this is stated perfectly here. (1)
– example of two attitudes – a successful and wealthy businessman from Singapore and a poor woman who sells tea in the streets of Paraguay. “We keep working and don’t get paid enough,” complained the 33-year Singaporean Richard Lowe. “Wealth does not bring happiness, but only problems. Life is too short, and there is no place for sadness,” said Maria Solis of Paraguay. (1)

Why do our brains always trick us to think that with money and material things comes happiness? I can see how this is true to a certain extent. Someone who is homeless, or someone with a huge financial burden could gain a lot from money; but once you obtain the basic needs in life with money, more money has not been proven to make you happier. There is something called “the hedonic treadmill” that explains why. According to this theory, whatever level of wealth you are used to, you adapt to, and you’ll always want more. Meaning, as a person makes more money, the level of expectations and desires rises in tandem. (2)

So why do many Americans seems to be so unhappy. Is it because of the lack of physical activity and obesity in our nation? Is it because income along with the cost of living has risen? Is it because we are so preoccupied with material things that do not aid in our happiness for more than a fleeting second? Is it because we are comparing our happiness to others picture of happiness on social media? I think it’s all of these things. We are spoiled. We expect to be happy without doing anything to be happy, our morals and priorities are skewed. Of course I believe you should work hard and make a good living, but not at the expense of true happiness. Think about it, and how it applies to your life.


This sounds terrible, but maybe 9 months or so after my fiancé died tragically in 2011, I became the happiest I ever was. Don’t get me wrong, with these euphoric highs, I still had just as many, if not more, very low lows. I missed him like crazy, and I honestly thought I would never love someone again, and I was content with that. I thought he was my one shot, and I was going to focus on happiness and nothing else from then on. I didn’t care about material things, or money, or status. Instead I just wanted to live fully. I wanted to learn something new, I wanted to have fun. I hiked and ran daily, I wanted to spend time with friends and family, I wanted to travel. I was in college and had very little bills or responsibilities; besides my dog, work, and school. It was bliss. I thought of him all the time, it seemed like he never left my head, and I liked that. It reminded me that this is exactly what he would want for me. This is exactly what life is supposed to be like (even though it would’ve been better if we figured this out with him still on earth). That happiness attracted the relationship I am in now, 5 years later. My boyfriend said the thing that was most attractive, and the thing he fell in love with on our first date, was my outlook on life, my sense of adventure, and my positive outlook. I learned all of that from what I had been through, and my choice to be happy when I could have stayed miserable.

You have to choose to be happy. Of course bad things are going to happen, but remember that only decreases your ability for happiness by 10% during that time. Happiness is a skill, and the way to reach happiness is by using all of the things we already intrinsically have or know how to do; play, experience new things, spend time with friends and family, do things that are meaningful, appreciate what you have. (2) All of those things happen to be free as well, so look at your life and your priorities and see where you can change to be happier.
(Listen I haven’t written anything I had to research in years, and thought I should try to cite sources that I used. So no, I do not know where the little number thing goes to show the source, up, down, not there at all. And yes, I did use son of a citation machine with the information I had to create a half ass bibliography.)
Best,
Cat Xo
  1. (2013, February 01). Retrieved July 27, 2016, from http://www.pravdareport.com/society/stories/02-01-2013/123363-poor_happy-0/
  2. Belic, R. (Director). (2011). Happy [Motion picture on DVD]. Belgium.
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