Narrowing Happiness: A Letter to 2025

We gratified conspicuous consumption in an attempt to enhance prestige. If consumption is related to happiness, at least some kinds are, even research shows that there is not much evidence of consumption reducing happiness. It is contrary to the critics’ claim of consumerism where available studies on consumption and happiness do not show the extent to which the latter variables connect a causal effect on one’s happiness, as satisfaction and happiness are two different measurements.

Except for the case of house ownership, we are still vague about the relationship between the goods purchased and other supporting factors in determining happiness among society in modern economy and consumption. Car ownership also shows causal evidence in lifting one’s happiness level, but the only positive correlation might only be shown in a certain income group.

Consumption is related to happiness, but it is facing stronger satisfaction. In research by Veenhoven et. al., (2021), there are mentioned elements of consumed goods that can be used to measure the happiness level of society. To give a context, these goods are welfare properties that can be added or reduced to change the happiness level of the population sample. They can vary from different psychological conditions, and social status, and may vary from product type and to what people the products are available to. Different patterns of consumption also generate different types of happiness for each person.

The study measures happiness with a scale of satisfaction. The result shows firstly the impact of spending on clothes to serve necessities clothing needs. Turns out, with different income groups, clothes are considered necessities in a society where happiness is not impacted by having more clothes in their wardrobe. From one finding, we found out that if clothes are sold in a place where people have free choice in the broad fashion industry, happiness is not easily affected if they think that they can buy clothes anytime, as it is not a basic necessity.

In other elements such as communication, unhappy people could still be less happy if they did not spend more on communication. Phone and other telecommunication bills are counted as the supporting factor in determining people’s happiness which can be increased by intense social interactions. People who spend a relatively large amount on durable goods that can be invested in the long term such as furniture tend to be happier than people who spend more on disposable goods. Turns out people still choose to be comfortable in having a long-term connection with other beings and products.

In terms of entertainment, the study also observed that in at least one out of three happiness indicators, people who expend more on arts are happier. Leisure also buys happiness. They also found that people with a high alcohol tendency who spend much on alcohol agree that the object gives them happiness. This is of course if leisure is available in their living place. These all happen in a place that offers them the choice of adding leisure experience where happiness could be sought outside of their house, too.

The last findings of the research show that home ownership can add happiness and may also mean that people are more inclined to buy their house to add happiness to their life. The effect of home ownership on happiness may not be the same for everybody and for that reason, other factors come into play. Such relationships, household, health, and property ownership with all the leases included can differentiate the situation of home ownership with people living inside the house and birth new happiness factors inside it. Owning a car adds to happiness as well. In certain income groups in specific urban areas, we can say that car ownership seems to boost happiness. When talking about adding another car to their ownership, some people may agree that it increases their happiness after buying high-value goods.

But these are all situations where people are given the choice to spend their life. Say that the foods are limited for necessity needs, people would only stock it up to cover their hunger. As mentioned in the previous findings, clothing is considered as an additional value in countries with higher income, which indicates that spending more on clothing represents a sheer need in covering their necessities, but instead it is more of an extravagance.

How if we turn the situation around, where someone lives in a place where clothing is more than a basic need, inclining towards a stackable luxurious value that can be added after purchasing more and more of the goods? This creates an option of either getting new clothes or not getting anything new. The situation is clear that clothing stores are available nearby, and you can easily commute there.

If you choose to go to the store and find that the specific piece that you intend to buy was sold out, imagine your personal feelings when this happens. Disappointed? Most probably. But why are you disappointed?

It is because you had the option to increase your satisfaction of owning a new object, which you believe could increase your happiness, but when the stock is gone, you feel as if you can’t get the happiness that you imagined to feel. You believed that the specific piece of clothing was essential to your happiness. So when you did not get to own it for yourself, you could not get the certain feeling of happiness. It is a scenario that your mind creates to feel happiness. First comes satisfaction, but it could not be gotten because of an unsatisfying situation that came your way.

This is a condition where you believe that happiness is something to be found if you create a maze. The same way if you believe that happiness is placed out there for you to find and could only be felt if you found the way out of the labyrinth.

One of these conditions leads to having an impact bias, a condition where we tend to create a simulation in an overly broad way with all the possibilities of what would happen if we focus on one scenario of happiness that comes from one choice that we need to take. From the trip to the clothing store, we found that the item was sold out and the instant response was a disappointment. You would be unhappy as an absolute result, but the disappointment leads to an assumption that the lost opportunity from the sold-out clothing will bring the same fortune, even worse, to our emotions.

If you had to choose between going home and waiting for the clothing item to be available the next day or going home and stopping looking for the item, most people would choose to wait for the former option.

If you choose the next day for the guaranteed item, your mind understands that there is comfort in knowing you will experience happiness by the moment you finally purchase the item. This is where your mind is stimulated by natural happiness.

In contrast to natural happiness, Dan Gilbert explains another term called synthetic happiness. If natural happiness is achieved by getting what we want, the latter could be made by making out of something that we did not get. Sadly, our society believes that synthetic happiness is inferior compared to natural.

This is linked to the impact bias if we follow the path to achieve natural happiness solely. As mentioned in the TED Talk by Dan Gilbert, research was conducted to compare the happiness level between lottery winners and a group of people who are affected by paraplegia. An impact bias approach would lead people to understand that lottery winner are the happier group of people than the latter, as mentioned in the talk as well. Turns out, Gilbert revealed the research findings to show that both groups carry the same level of happiness in their life.

In the modern economy, it is proved that happiness could be increased by adding material objects to their life such as clothing, durables, transportation, and housing, which are afforded by a fortune. With impact bias, some people assume that fortune can directly add happiness value to someone’s life after working to afford many materialistic objects. Whereas, happiness is there to buy, seek, and wait.

Contrary to the assumption, Dan Gilbert dropped the statement that happiness should not only be sought. In this life where we use emotion to measure satisfaction, happiness can be created by combining all the scenarios in our head, believing that the state we are living in right now is enough for us.

This is not to say that we should stop seeking happiness out there completely. It is still a huge drive for us to continue many journeys and find answers to many questions, too.

If synthetic happiness is still considered as an interior to society, let us see why it is the key to feeling happy just the right way as the natural cause. Gilbert explained that we have developed a psychological immune system that helps us change the way we view the world, even if things do not go our way, so we can feel better about ourselves.

This system also helps us to synthesize happiness. From this line, I believe it is not a bad thing to create just because modern society thinks it is invalid. If the world thinks that happiness means adding another life quality if the world thinks that a new job means you finally got out of the old environment which prevents you to be happy, or if the world thinks that buying a new laptop gives you happiness, I stand against the natural cause of happiness the world only known as true.

Synthetic happiness gives you peace of mind. With all the measured happiness people get after buying new things, you can still find the same happiness by referring back to yourself. If you could feel happy with yourself, the starting key is to remove the scenario of failing to get the specific achievement that you want.

Let’s say you have a target of upscaling your career next year where you have a specific company that you wish to enter. You plan to prepare for interviews and other things such as certifications and maybe new connections too. When you finally get the invitation to the interview, refer back again.

What if you could not pass it?

No, maybe you could not pass it. Maybe it is an option other than getting into it.

Then you don’t pass it.

Failing to get into that company does not mean you fail in feeling happiness in your life. What do we have in mind that we could gather now? Let’s look at what we have right now. Maybe we could stack our belongings and memories like a lego piece just for us to be a bit grateful for what we have.

Sometimes we also fear not being able to excel in life and the thought itself scares us. But we still have the opportunity to gather our thoughts into thinking that we still have a life to discover more opportunities and think that all the unlucky moments are lessons now. The lego is yours for you to create, maybe it does not have to be a castle, but it could be a truck to lift all the worries. This is what it means to synthesize your happiness. To think that you are enough and you are valid for all your emotions.

Not having many choices humbles you to be content with all your belongings. In a world where consumptive culture lets us choose between adding values to our lives, we forget that we can feel satisfied with what we have. We forget that we don’t need to depend on new additions in life to be happy.

Dear My Future Self in 2025,

Now that all you think about is how you are going to be in 2025, where you will be, what will you turn out to be then,

Don’t narrow your happiness in the broad world that there is.

Don’t stop contenting what you have right now to be something that is not as valuable as it might be later. What you have right now is a once-in-a-lifetime finding, and you have no idea how much this means to your past self, even before the time you wrote this.

Don’t think that what you hold on to right now won’t take you anywhere.

By the time you read this again, 2025 was not just a blink of an eye, it did pass with something that you felt.

By the time you read this again, 2022 was a year of gifts. You were given the time to hold onto your values and you're treasured finding that you promised not to let go, ever.

You were once afraid of what will come. You did not know what else to shield yourself with, not even with the comfort that they were.

Something that was given to you in 2021, a thing that you treasure the most, will not be taken anytime soon. It will be with you all your life.

By the time you read this again, it is still yet to come. It promised you.

By the time you read this again, you will thank yourself for staying.

Surely, without a doubt,

It shall pass,

and all is well.

References

TED. (2012). The surprising science of happiness | Dan Gilbert. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q1dgn_C0AU

Veenhoven, R., Chiperi, F., Kang, X., & Burger, M. (2021). Happiness and Consumption: A Research Synthesis Using an Online Finding Archive. SAGE Open, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244020986239

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