There is a tendency among us (those of us not clinically depressed anyway) to overestimate our ability to control what happens to us. As long as I perform such and such actions in a particular way and in a particular order, I can determine the outcome precisely. The almost universally desired outcome is ultimately happiness. We’d all like to be happy, however we define that subjective and elusive experience. I’ve been reading Stumbling On Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert, who warns that what we believe will make us happy changes with time, and might not give us the satisfaction that we thought it would. The grass always looks greener on the other side, so to speak, and even when we manage to get to “the other side”, there’s always another “other side” to look at and desire.
Where does this unreasonable optimism come from? I’ve been thinking about this in the past couple of days as I read this book – the cycle of belief and control. Some people believe to the core of their being that they can determine their future, act accordingly, and then get what they want. At least that is the Steve Jobs/American dream.
American Dream. Like happiness and love and democracy it’s been simultaneously maligned and celebrated. In these desperate, hard times, it still means something, whether it’s bitter irony or a lofty hope.
So the title of this entry comes from Stumbling on Happiness, and it describes a state of well-being that combines a sense of control and effectiveness with a deep sense of satisfaction. Human flourishing, and a life well-lived, a sustainable “happiness”. Gilbert describes it in more detail in his TED talk.