I am going to ask you to answer a very simple question. When are you happier, when you are on vacation or when you are at home? I would gather the overwhelming majority of people will answer that as a whole, they are happier when they are on vacation, than when they are in the routine of our day-to-day lives.
Now, I am going to ask you to consider a little bit more complex question. Why are you happier when you are on vacation? Is it because you are not at work? Or because you are visiting a new place you’ve never been? Maybe it can be summed up by all of the above. One is happier when they are on vacation because we are taking a temporary break from the confines of our mundane and routine lives. For a momentary segment of time, we are able to experience life as we truly desire to experience it. Free to engage in activities we desire to experience, not bound by the prison of limitations placed on us by monotonous 99% that comprises our daily lives.
When you really think about it, isn’t that insane? Isn’t it maddening to consider that 99% of our lives is spent on engaged in repetitive activities that seem to smoother the blissfulness of existence? If I gave you the choice to spend one hour, that involved 59 minutes of getting a root canal, and one-minute listening to your favorite musician live, or you could spend 59 minutes listening to your favorite musician and one minute getting a root canal, would any sane person choose a 59-minute root canal? Of course not. Everyone would choose to enjoy their favorite music for 99% of the hour. However, when it comes to our day-to-day lives, we all choose the root canal. Why?
I can see some of you saying, “I don’t choose a root canal for 99% of my life.” Ok, well let’s think about this for a minute. What is a root canal? An event that is a consequence of our nature vs nature, that involves instances of pain, occasions of relief, numbing to discomfort, anxiety, courage, and ultimately a series of stresses and obstacles we endure so that we may allow for the continuance of our tooth’s existence. When you consider it in totality, a root canal indeed can be symbolic of a microcosm of our entire lives. When you consider our lives on a deeper life, this thought can be somewhat depressing, because none of us willingly would sign up to spend 99% of our time actually getting a root canal.
There is good news! The disheartening “root canal life” does not have to be any one of our lives. We can break free of the penitentiary of the predictable humdrum of our so called lives. Now, understand it isn’t hard to change our lives, but it isn’t easy either. In order to get out of the root canal life, it will require us to examine the 1% of life we aren’t paying attention to, and simultaneously return our minds to the world of the 99% we forget about. Let me explain:
There is a psychological reason why we are happier on vacation than we are in our average daily lives. It all comes down to two fundamental mental processes, focus, and perception. Happiness comes from seeing the whole of life. Conversely, misery comes from narrowing our focus and failing to attend to the totality of life. As far as our mind is concerned, the happiness of vacation and work is irrelevant. Rather, what our mind is concerned with is what our expectations on and how we focus our perception to experience them. When we are on vacation, we are expecting that our experiences will be brand new and pleasant. In order, to ensure that we are capable of taking in the wealth of new experiences and novel environments, we open up our focus in order to perceive everything in our environment. We purposely notice the color of the sky, the beauty of the biology around us, the smells we are immersed in, the sounds that are all around us, and even the taste of air we breathe in. When we are on vacation we consciously allow ourselves to be aware and grateful of every aspect we experience in our environment. Not only do we consciously allow ourselves to take in our new experiences, we also actively seek out new and exciting undertakings. The reality is, from the moment we plan a vacation, we are plotting out an adventure for our senses and perceptions.
However, when we are in our normal 99% of life, we tend to narrow our focus completely. Typically, we only pay attention to the tedious aspects of our life. In a way, we go through 99% of our life on autopilot, in a robotic sense of routine. In order for unsuspecting beauty to enter our daily lives, it has to dramatically enter our perception for us to notice it. Such as an extraordinarily picturesque sunrise or sunset. The reality is our brains are not hardwired to facilitate happiness this way. In fact, this is so significant, most of us have to artificially influence our attention and perception, by listening to the radio or watching TV. To bolster our own happiness, we have to bring in the sounds or watch the sights of other’s lives.
The reality is the miracles of life and our existence is all around us every day. All we have to do is decide to acknowledge them. Instead of running and jumping into the car and heading straight to work, or take the kids to school, we have to look up for a moment and take in the morning sky. Recognize, that somehow the sun hangs in the sky giving all of life the opportunity to exist. We have to stop and hear the birds that are chirping all around us all the time. What kind of bird is it and what are they saying?
We have to recognize, that the reality is our lives are not nearly as unchanging as we have been accustomed to thinking. The clouds that are suspended in the sky at any given moment, will never be exactly the same tomorrow. As we take in the world around us, we open up our focus and consciously deciding to attend to the world, as it is, as a thing of beauty. We change our daily expectations that we suddenly decide to experience the miracle of life is that it just happens. By mere existence, life and the entire universe are indeed miraculous.
Suddenly, our daily world can become equally as exciting as the world we experience when we are in a new local. The biggest influence isn’t the environment, rather it is the way we decide to experience the environment.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Too much of any one thing, is never a good thing.”? That idiom isn’t entirely true. The reality is, too much focus on any one thing is never a good thing. Imagine you are on vacation at the most amazing and desirable place you can think of. Now, imagine that while you’re there experiencing your once in a lifetime vacation, you suddenly stubbed your toe. Are you still appreciating the incredible world around you? The world that is the most amazing vacation you can imagine? Of course not. At that moment, you are in pain and the only thing you are thinking about is your stubbed toe. So what changed? The answer is simple. The world didn’t change, rather your focus changed, and your entire attention is on your painfully stubbed toe. God forbid, if you broke your toe, every step you take for the remainder of your vacation will be a reminder of our poor little toe. Our focus will always be divided from the beautiful world and our painful toe.
Truthfully, we cannot ever prevent ever stubbing our toe as we walk through life. However, we tend to add a lot more stubbed toes that we actually need too. Worse, yet we can add so many, that we begin to think all of life is just one big stubbed toe. How? Well, remember how I said, that our minds are so addicted to diversity in experience that we add artificial perceptions into our lives? That’s how.
One of the most influential stubbed toes we bring into our lives is through our consumption of news media. No matter what news source you would like to look at, consider what the top headlines are that one will see. Consider what they all will have in common.
First of all, none of these headlines are going to be particularly pleasant. However, most importantly, the headlines will often represent the far-extreme (bad) 1% of life. The reality is that 99% of us do not live in a world that was actually featured in any of these headlines. Rather, 99% of us live in a world that is, as we covered already, mundane and routine. On any given day, 99% of us weren’t attacked by terrorist, robbed or raped by an unauthorized immigrant, eaten by an alligator, or engaged in a far-left vs. far-right fight club meet-up.
This isn’t to diminish those who have experienced any of these tragic 1% events. There suffering, or loss is real and it does represent the significantly “bad” that can exist in our world. Many of us consume this type of news in high volumes to the degree in which the extreme 1% begins to feel like it is the entire “real world.” Some will argue that to not be some consumed by these events, would represent delusional thinking and allowing one to be unprepared for the harsh certainties of life. However, in reality, we aren’t consuming this news with any expectation that we will actually experience any of these events ourselves.
From 2015 to 2016, I engaged in an extensive research project aimed at understanding how people mitigate optimism and pessimism. What I overwhelmingly discovered is that people consider the sky is definitely falling, however, it is never their particular sky.
For example, in the study, 86% of all respondents indicated that a “mass casualty” terrorist attack was definitely or likely to occur on U.S. soil in the next two years. Not one respondent indicated that a mass casualty terrorist event would definitely not occur in the U.S. within two years. Conversely, 90% of respondents, stated that they definitely would not or likely would not be a victim of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Not one respondent indicated that they would definitely be a victim of an attack and only 4% indicated they would likely be a victim of an attack. The entire 4% of respondents that indicated that they would likely be a victim, were in law enforcement or the military.
In the same study, 81% of subjects stated that it was definitely unlikely or probably not likely that the U.S. economy would improve in the next two years. Again, not one single responded indicated that the economy would definitely improve. However, when respondents were asked about their own personal finances, 95% of all subjects indicated their finances would definitely or likely improve in the next two years. Consistent with everything else in the study, not one single test subject indicated that their personal finances would definitely or likely not improve.
What my research demonstrated was that people significantly felt like bad or negative events were imminent. However, no one actually believes they will truly experience any negative effects. So in reality, the concept that we are dependent on negative news stories to stay informed and prepared for our own lives, is for most of us, is not at all true.
This is not to say that being informed about politics, national, or world events is a bad thing. Rather, it is how we consume it that can make it a bad thing. If we fail to realize that we aren’t informing ourselves of significant occurrences, and suddenly the negative news becomes an object of our fixation, then we affect our capacity to enjoy life. When it all boils down to is our focus. We are focused so intensely on the bad in life, just like a stubbed toe, we are incapable of seeing all the good around us. Consider this the opposite of what I described in the 1% we need to bring into our life, and instead, this is making the bad 1% feel like the real 99% of our own lives.
The ultimate damage to our overall wellbeing is that our focus becomes our perception and now we are hard-wiring our brains to only perceive the negative in the world around us. Our brain isn’t trying to make our lives worse or bring unhappiness to us. Rather, our mind is simply doing what we are telling it to do.
This failure to recognize the good 1% we are ignoring, and making the bad 1% our reality is a huge problem in America right now. In 2016, 44,193 people took their own lives, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death. Additionally, 52,404 people died as a result of drug overdoses. According to the Mayo Clinic, the leading psychological causes that lead one to be addicted to illicit drugs is, depression, inability to connect with others, lack of friends, or poor performance in school or work. By comparison in 2016, 15, 696 Americans lost their lives in homicides. What this means, is that the average American is six times more likely to commit suicide or die by drug overdose than they are to be murdered.
The point is, America has an unhappiness problem. It is so significant, the combination of drug overdoses and suicide combine to result in almost as many deaths annually in America as accidents (136,053), Stroke (133,033), and more than Alzheimer’s Disease (93,541), Diabetes (76,488), Influenza and Pneumonia (55,227), and Kidney Disease (48,146). Only heart disease (614,348) and Cancer (591,699) account for significantly more annual deaths that America’s death of unhappiness.
At the end of the day, the fix to America’s unhappiness problem truly is something each and every one of us are empowered to fix. It starts with the decision to be happy, and make some a few changes in how we experience our world. It seems so complex, but it really is just that simple. Now, if you happen to be someone who is already appreciating the 1% most ignore and remember they are living in the 99% that most of us live in, then GREAT! Now, share this information with friends and family and actually start making a difference in their lives by simply choosing to be happy in this world.