Do you believe that the choices you make determine how you feel? Would you agree if I say that the satisfaction we derive from the things we own reduces as the number of options continues to grow?
The level of happiness does not depend on what you choose. It depends on how many options were available for you to choose from.
Why is that?
Short answer: Evolution.
Long answer: Our minds have evolved to experience and create vivid imaginations that strongly influence our emotions. It is this lure of alternative futures that our minds build for the variety of options that are available to us. That's fascinating! By a simple act of selecting an item from multiple choices, we create not only a) An actual reality, but also b) Many possible but missed realities.
These missed realities lead us to doubt the worth of our actual reality. So, in a way, we're creating our own dissatisfaction.
The optimist in me prefers to say: We're creating our own happiness.
Let me share a paragraph from Adam Smith's treatise on The Theory of Moral Sentiments where he has described this turgid truth:
"The great source of both misery and disorders of human life seems to arise from over-rating the differences between one permanent situation and another. Some of these situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others; but none of them can deserve to be pursued with the passionate ardor which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice, or to corrupt the future tranquility of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly or by remorse from the horror of our own injustice."
If I had to narrow this down to one takeaway, it would be: To never corrupt the future tranquillity of your mind over the choices you chose to not make.
This is something worth thinking about. Especially as 2017 comes to a close, and we await a new year full of hope and happiness.
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This post is inspired by Dan Gilbert's TED talk on the science of happiness.