If we return to the same happiness level eventually, why do we prefer winning lotteries to becoming quadriplegic?

October 21, 2012 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog

(Working on a presentation, I had to rewrite a post from a couple months ago. It’s very similar to the original, but I thought there’d be value in posting a slightly different way of putting it. I hope that value is more important than the repetition).

If you read this blog you know about the researchers who asked people who won huge lotteries and people who just had accidents leading to becoming quadriplegic how happy they were. The lottery winners were happier. But when they asked them a year later, the difference in happiness disappeared. Everyone seemed about as happy as they had been before either event.

I’m going to draw two different, more valuable conclusions than most.

If we end up at the same happiness level eventually, why do we prefer winning lotteries to ending up in wheelchairs?

I ask this question a fair amount but people rarely answer in a way that satisfies even themselves. That’s odd when you’d expect people to know their values enough to discern such a major difference.

If you want to learn something about yourself, try to answer the question before reading further. If you want to learn more, write your answer down first, forcing yourself to clarify it and not letting yourself change your answer in your head if you change your mind as you read. Also, if you have an answer my post doesn’t cover, I’d love to hear from you by posting below or contacting me.

People often answer things like having more money gives them options to do things. But this misses the point. What are those things worth if they don’t make you happier? Since people in the surveys didn’t get happier having the extra options didn’t help them. That’s what’s revealing about the results.

Sometimes they talk about the pain of the accident, but, again, if it doesn’t affect your happiness, what difference does it make? They are getting close to an airtight answer with this one, but they aren’t there yet.

What are your values? Most people can answer if they’d rather be rich and unhappy or poor and happy if they had to choose one.

So would you rather be rich and a certain amount happy or in a wheelchair and the same amount happy? Why?

Here’s why

If you haven’t come up with an answer, again, think about it before continuing.

By the way, I deliberately avoided asking the question in a clearer way that would have led to finding a solid answer more easily. I’m not trying to get you a couple right answers here or there. I’m trying to get you a system for understanding how you value your world. The Model and Method show your values are based in your emotional system, so check them out if your answer wasn’t immediately obvious.

The reason we prefer winning the lottery even if it doesn’t change our long-term happiness relative to losing control of our limbs doesn’t come from the long-term part. Two people whose emotions are the same — or at least have the same amount of emotions they like compared to emotions they don’t like and the same amount of emotional reward — I suggest they live equally valuable lives. To clarify, if your happiness comes from cooking and mine comes from exercising, but we have the same amount, I put to you that neither has a better life.

The reason comes from the time between the life-changing incident and when the emotions even out. The time you’re happier, or feel whatever emotions you prefer, is the difference. If the only difference between two choices is that one leads to a moment more of happiness, joy, or whatever emotion you like — that choice is better. I’m saying all else stays equal.

I prefer to put this lesson another, simpler way:

Every moment counts.

Every moment of your life is its own independent part of your life. Each moment has its own value. For that matter, that’s everything that matters: how much you value each moment you live. I once read a quote, maybe a book title “You have only moments to live.” I like that dramatic way of putting it.

What matters in your life is not external things like money, power, fame, or even relationships, and so on, except for what emotions they elicit (I’ll refine this point tomorrow, since you can control what emotions you feel) and their characteristics, and you can measure the amount of each emotion by the time you feel it. That’s what matters in life — the emotions you feel over time. Everything else drives that.

Moments in the past you can’t change. Moments now and in the future you can. And getting value out of each moment is all you have in life.

Did I get overly dramatic? Possibly. My point is to focus you on what matters and why. Maybe you already knew. From my experience asking people about huge, blatant differences, most people don’t.

Again, if you see it differently, I’d love to read how so.

You can change your happiness level

Many people conclude from this study you can’t change your happiness level or that a lot of it is fixed. After all, after these dramatically different life events, people converged to similar levels.

F-ing idiots. Sorry if you concluded that, but you missed the information right in front of your face.

Please don’t come to that conclusion.

Their happiness levels changed before they reconverged. That means their happiness levels changed. That means they can change their happiness levels. That means you can change your happiness levels.

You can’t conclude the following from just that experiment, but you can create whatever emotions you want.

I suggest you learn from this result that your environment influences your emotions. You already know you can influence your environment. Your emotions don’t respond to only chance events. You can change your environment how you want to create the emotions you want, though you may have to change more than your environment. Again, that’s what the Model and Method are about — how and what to change to create the life you want.

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