One of the persistent follies of human nature is to imagine true happiness is just out of reach. The “arrival fallacy” describes our tendency to believe that once we arrive at a particular destination, then we’ll be happy
If a stranger hands me a dollar bill, I suspect he’s trying to invoke the strong psychological phenomenon of “reciprocation” (when someone gives you something or does something for you, you feel you should reciprocate). Reciprocation is why members of the Hare Krishna Society gave flowers to passers-by in airports, and why charities send complimentary address labels when they ask for money.
I’d often heard the suggestion that a good way to spread happiness was to “Practice random acts of kindness.” But I disagree. Yes, if I commit a random act of kindness, I will feel happier—say, if I pay the toll for the car behind me, or put coins in a stranger’s parking meter. That’s the Second Splendid Truth, Part A, otherwise summarized as “Do good, feel good.” However, research suggests that many people react to receiving a random act of kindness with—suspicion!
I’m not the only one to feel this effect; as we get older, time seems to pass more quickly. As poet Robert Southey explained: “Live as long as you may, the first twenty years are the longest half of your life. They appear so while they are passing; they seem to have been so when we look back on them; and they take up more room in our memory than all the years that succeed them.”
I associated the phlegmatic sensibility and comic understatement of “underreacting to a problem” with the British, as when Winston Churchill remarked in 1940, on the question of a possible invasion: “My technical advisers were of the opinion that the best method of dealing with a German invasion of the Island of Britain was to drown as many as possible on the way over and knock the others on the head as they crawled ashore.”
As I went shelf by shelf, I became increasingly cowed by the power of the “endowment effect.” This psychological phenomenon means that once I own an object, I value it more. I might not have particularly wanted that purple freebie coffee mug, but once the mug was mine, I’d find it hard to give it up. The endowment effect meant that objects I owned — even ones I’d never much liked or used — made a claim on me, and the longer I owned them, the higher I perceived their value to be.
Gretchen Rubin: Happier at Home Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life
I’ve never forgotten Elaine Scarry’s observation in The Body in Pain, “Perhaps no one who attends closely to artifacts is wholly free of the suspicion that they are, though not animate, not quite inanimate.”
If I’ve learned one thing from my happiness project, it’s that if I want my life to be a certain way, I must be that way myself. If I want my marriage to be tender and romantic, I must be tender and romantic.
October – Marriage