Throughout the years I started many courses on various platforms, but the only one I carried on for 10 weeks, religiously completed exercises and happily completed was Yale’s free course on “The Science of Well-Being”.
We don’t know what we want
Turns out that as humans we are very stupid about what makes us happy. And when we don’t know this, we tend to believe what other people, ads, friends, government, social media is telling us. To be happy is not that difficult. Actually, it needs very little from you. Of course, if you want it.
For this course, I did daily exercises: acts of kindness, using character strengths, physical exercise, meditation, social connection and others. I didn’t need to start making six figures, find a boyfriend or get a new car. In fact, we are as happy making just enough money (it is $50 000 – 70 000) as we would be when making $200 000 or more. New shiny expensive things lose their value if other people do not care about them (as we are trying to impress) or we simply get used to them. The happiness which comes from things is very temporary and depends on reaction of others.
Power of social comparison
As I’ve already established in my earlier post comparing yourself to others usually brings unhappiness. It’s fundamental and often hard to avoid. Even without social media, we see friends, coworkers, we have acquaintances – and as in social media, we often compare our problems with their happiness. Our environment also defines how we value ourselves. The course provides multiple studies on beauty, financial wellbeing, employment but the most fascinating finding is, how much people want to do better than someone else, even if the end result is worse in general.
Solnick & Hemenway study showed that slightly more than half Harvard students would prefer a 50% lower salary with a condition that others are getting even less. I am left wondering, how isn’t there a full 100% at the option #2?
Sudden insight into my own misery
As I was somewhat depressed throughout the winter and probably much before that, I kept pondering on a question, why I am not elated here in Scotland as I was in London? I feel better here, I have a good job, activities, social life, better flat, but I don’t feel amazement on every corner of the city, I am not taking photos of every store window just as I used to before, I am not feeling that overtaking feeling and not repeating to myself: I am in Edinburgh… I am in Scotland. Although I still feel that this is so much better for me than London ever was.
I just couldn’t understand, what went wrong. Do I need to leave? Is it because I knew that London is temporary, but somehow I see Scotland as permanent and this makes me feel scared that this is all there is to my life? Maybe it’s just summer, autumn and winter depression? Or maybe I just need to change my job into something way more exciting?
The answer popped so clearly as I continued the well-being course. A wedding, buying a house, or any other big life event (moving abroad, in my case), spikes happiness levels, but then goes down to the same level as it was before in approximately 2 years.
Doesn’t mean you go back to being unhappy, not at all. But that’s just how our brain gets used to things and they no longer bring that elation you experienced right before and right after. You are just happy with the current situation, it has some good, some bad, but you don’t file for a divorce just because you are no longer on cloud nine.
So when I moved to London, it was huge. I wanted to live abroad since I found out that abroad exists. Those first 2 years + a few months in Scotland were those two years until living abroad went to my normal. Food is the same, stores are pretty much the same, language is the same, flats are pretty much the same. The situation is the same.
Being content and ending doubts
There are many good things that I appreciate about my life here and I dearly love Scotland (and I’ll love more once I can travel around and see it!). I don’t feel the need to run away to yet another place, even if I am not as excited as when I was in London, where everything was new, every corner was fascinating, where I was learning to speak English every day, learning local foods and stores, learning about the British culture, what’s stereotypical and what I’ve only seen in TV before. Back then I felt like a newborn who is just now discovering a world. And that was amazing.
Scotland is just another place in the same country I’ve already lived before. It didn’t take too long to get used to it and everything to go back to my neutral state of being. Knowing this ended my doubts about making the right or maybe the wrong decision about moving and staying here. I don’t see myself staying anywhere for the rest of my life. Those are scary words. There are so many places I want to experience not as a tourist, but as a local. It’s unusual, but that is my drive in life.
Right now, Scotland is good enough, giving me everything I need. And what I didn’t get – maybe I wasn’t ready for it (and I really wasn’t). I still think that a new culture will bring me that feeling of excitement. I will feel proud of myself for moving to a distant unknown land (for me), courage will be running through my veins and many more adventures will paint a new world for me.