If you're reading this, you probably live in some kind of a free society. And we're guessing that you place pretty high value on freedom, and that approximately zero of you stare out the window and long to move to North Korea. But freedom to choose everything you do comes at a price.
"But which brand of hazelnut is the hazelnuttiest?"
For instance, there are two kinds of people: those old enough to remember a world without the Internet, and those who are not. If you were born in the 1970s, you probably remember a household, not only without a computer, but with a television that had three channels. And UHF. Total. And no video games.
Thank goodness we had Vietnam to keep us occupied.
Since then, the entertainment choices have gone up infinitely. We have our food choices, and toothpaste choices, and career choices. Don't scoff at that last one ("Ha, I'd love to have even one career!") since a lot of your job anxiety comes from the fact that there are so many choices that it isn't at all obvious which one is right for you. Once upon a time, you knew what you were going to do when you grew up: You were going to work on the goddamn farm, just like everybody else. Now, you spend the last year of high school knowing that of the thousands of possible careers, you will probably suck at all but one or two. And the results if you pick wrong can be devastating.
"If only I'd been a fry cook."
That everyday anxiety over making the wrong choice is why having a vast selection of choices tends to make people less happy in general.
You have that agonizing selection process, repeated over and over again with decisions big and small (and some of you reading this have worried yourself sick over whether to go with LCD or plasma -- don't say you haven't) which not only leads to anxiety, but decreased satisfaction even when we do chose correctly. After all, once you make the decision and get locked in, you never stop thinking "What if."
"I was this close to a spot on the cast of Mad TV, but I threw it all away for politics."
Hell, regret is the whole basis of the "midlife crisis" people go through in their 40s and 50s. "What if I'd chosen some other career? Or some other wife? Or chosen to spend more time with my kids instead of working?" It's the fact that there is not enough time left to redo any of those decisions that triggers the "crisis."
And all of it comes back to the elusive nature of happiness. You picked X because you thought it would make you happy, but you're not happy, so you probably should have picked Y instead. Then you would have been happy, dammit. Which means the pressure is really on when you make this next decision. Because happiness is right over that next hill, and you'd better pick the right way to get over it. Don't fuck this up! Everything rides on this!
But don't get stressed out! Shithead!
Maybe that explains what is going to be the weirdest statistic you'll hear all month: The countries and states with the highest happiness levels also have the highest suicide rates. People in New York state rank 45th in reported life satisfaction. They also have the lowest suicide rates. Hawaii unsurprisingly has the second-highest life satisfaction, it being an island paradise and all. But it also ranks in the top five in suicides.
Also, it looks kind of like a noose from above.
The answer, researchers guess, is that the people reporting happiness are not in fact the same people who are committing suicides. No, they think the source of the depressed people's despair is being around all of these happy people. Think about how that magnifies all of your mistakes, and highlights what you missed out on.
Let's go back a couple of thousand years, back to the era when happiness was either all about luck, or the result of living a virtuous life. In both of those schools of thought, it sounds like the message is, "Don't even bother trying to be happy, because these are ancient times, we all live in filth and that's just the way it is." But according to the experts, they may have been onto something. Just in a roundabout way.
"Does anyone else feel oddly fulfilled?"
A study published by Perspectives on Psychological Science found that participants, when asked to read and act out steps in a self-help article or to watch an upbeat film, usually concentrated too hard on trying to improve their mood and therefore ended up feeling cheated and more downtrodden.
The study's co-author and a member of the psychology department faculty at Yale University, June Gruber, said: "When you're doing it with the motivation or expectation that these things ought to make you happy, that can lead to disappointment and decreased happiness."
Not unlike the Smurf movie.
So what does jolly Old June suggest?
"... the best way to increase your happiness is to stop worrying about being happy and instead divert your energy to nurturing the social bonds you have with other people ... If there's one thing you're going to focus on, focus on that. Let all the rest come as it will."
Also there are other alternatives. Giant handfuls of them.
The very act of trying to achieve happiness made people unhappy because of the anxiety they felt when they failed. They were happier when they weren't trying. You know, like if somebody had told them it was out of their hands, or that they should focus on doing good things and declare the result to be "happiness," regardless of what it looked like.
And also, they should avoid reading articles about happiness at all costs.
You can read more from Kimmy here: kimmydee-pitchabitch.blogspot.com
But since we all know that social bonds are overrated, check out 7 Great Products for Telling the World You're a Rich Dick and 7 Items You Won't Believe Are Actually Legal.