Happiness as defined personally vs Environmental

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August 11, 2018

I have a way that I view reaction to things that isn’t likely normal, but I don’t think I’ve ever put it into words. So, I’m doing that now for prosperity and to help me cement my position in my mind. Let’s start with some things I feel to be false. This belief that happiness is about how you personally react to your environment. Some common sayings along that line are: “appreciate what you have”, or “it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters” – Epictetus. I see these as half-truths.


To explain what I mean let’s apply them to an extreme situation… a kidnaped victim who’s being tortured and rapped on a daily basis. I think most would agree that person shouldn’t “appreciate what they have”. To me this exposes the flaw in thinking about happiness solely from a personal level.


Next up is the common part of this equation that “there are others that are less fortunate”. There is only one person who this applies too in a world of billions, and it changes based on the person who decides who is the least fortunate so there isn’t like some consensus of what the least fortunate person would look like. It’s a false and dismissive stance to take on happiness. We are part of a culture, and while the “1st world problems” memes are pretty funny, that doesn’t mean that your issues aren’t valid in our culture even if they aren’t valid in another.


To put it another way, you can want and work for things to be better even if you are already better off than 50% of the world. You are under no moral responsibility to lower your standards to a global scale, that is not what is common to you, that’s not what is common to the culture you were raised in, and those are not the values and desires that were instilled in you. So don’t let others dismiss your feelings with the Fallacy of relative privation. Just because someone else has it worse doesn’t mean you don’t have a valid complaint.


On the flip side you should have realistic expectations. If most people in your culture only achieve “x” levels of something, you shouldn’t expect to achieve “x + 100% or more”. For example, most bosses suck, 75% of all turnover is because of the boss, and I’ve seen studies indicating how the people most likely to get that promotion are the ones least equip to do it well. You can call this the peter principles, promotions to your level of incompetence, or even the psychologic aspect that we tend to promote domineering/authoritative people when we should be promoting people who fostering working together.


I say all that as the forerunning to get to my point. There is a common reaction in a given culture, and your reaction should be near that in most cases. If your reaction is constantly 10 or 20% lower than everyone else’s you’ll be unhappy. If your environment is constantly 10 or 20% lower than everyone else’s you’ll be unhappy. To be happy you need to work on both your external environment AND your personal reaction to it.


Disclaimer – Some environments while commonly accepted, shouldn’t be and it’s completely valid to be unhappier about them. Most of the time however this won’t apply, and this post is about generalities, and concedes that there will be exceptions to the presented/suggested rules. This is also true for the personal side, due to your history personally something may bother you more than others, and this too is valid. These exceptions should be rare, and if you have personal negativity to many things others don’t then you should work on the personal side. If you are in environments that are generally considered negative, then you should work on the environmental side.

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