Happiness Myths: The Happiness Project of Gretchin Rubin. Myth No. 2
There's much to be said about Gretchins 'The Happiness Project', but Here I'm going to focus on a set of the happiness project blog articles on happiness myths, and see if some of the happiness myths are myths.
This is Gretchins myth No. 2:
"Myth No. 2: Nothing changes a person’s happiness level much."
Gretchin's myth No. 2 is a fundamental truism that destabilizes the foundation of all happiness research. The bottom line is that happiness is entirely subjective and relative only to one's own past experiences. All experiences are included, and the more recent ones and more powerful ones carry more weight by virtue of the vividness of the memory.
What this means is that there is no absolute measure of happiness, which can only be determined by the subjective affect of the person in question. Nothing matters but the persons subjective view of their own level of happiness, and the only way they can ascertain that level for themselves is to make a comparison. While this comparison may include their personal opinion about how happy or unhappy others are, it's still a part of their own subjective experience, and they have to remember how happy and unhappy they used to feel, or normally feel, in order to know how happy they are now relative to their own past. Subjective happiness is entirely relative to our own experience of what is happy and unhappy, and this is continually changing along with our experience.
In other words, your 'median' happiness level MUST lie at the precise center of your personal continuum of happiness because it is literally defined by the sum of your memory of your experiences of happiness.
In the happiness project blog about this 'myth', Gretchin writes: "When I'm in neutral, I'm the same familiar Gretchin", and she goes on to talk about how she has created more satisfaction, less anger and such, thereby increasing her happiness when she is not in neutral. What she is not acknowledging is the other side of the neutral point that absolutely must happen in order for the neutral point to be where it is. If she always moved from neutral to happier, then her neutral would have to move up the continuum toward the happy extreme, and when it does, it will still feel like "the same familiar Gretchin" even though it will be a different neutral point.
Gretchin recognizes the "same familiar Gretchin" at the neutral point on her continuum because her happy and unhappy experiences continually define her own subjective point of neutrality. It's always going to feel the same regardless of how wonderful her life becomes because she merely establishes a new neutral point that will lie precisely in the center of her new subjective range of happy and unhappy.
While it's true that one can keep doing happy things, which seems to be how the the happiness project works, and with a great deal of luck, manage to avoid much of the unhappy things, this does not lead to a happier life. It simply moves the subjective neutral point toward the happy end of the continuum. This also implies that one must continue doing those happy things in order to maintain that new neutral point, or else suffer the backlash of not so happy experiences until the neutral point works it's back down the continuum. We can, however, deceive ourselves into thinking we have made our lives more happy. It's much like being in denial of negativity, and equally ineffective.
The truth is that life is made up of happy and unhappy experiences, and we all must experience both, and they will naturally balance out. The only variables are the frequency and the amplitude. By 'frequency' I mean the time between peaks and valleys, which might be a day or many years. By 'amplitude' I mean how high the high points get and how low the low points are. The harder we try to be happy, the greater the amplitude, which makes for a very exciting life, but does not make for a happier life. We will continue to explore the happiness project in future articles.
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