Human beings are wired to notice novelty. It’s a really helpful trait to develop – it helped our ancestors become aware of changes in their environment and the people around them. That’s useful when you notice things that might indicate threats, like the quiet that meant a tiger was stalking us by the watering hole.
Mindfulness or Novelty?
These days, though, with few threats to our daily lives (beyond the existential), our devotion to novelty finds itself without something to attach to. So we constantly buy new clothes, go to new restaurants, and even look for new partners.
It also pushes us to look for our happiness in the “next” big thing in our lives. We think that something new will fill the void that we currently feel. That makes it challenging to appreciate the moments that we have in front of us. It can be hard to appreciate a Tuesday afternoon when nothing too exciting is happening.
Instead we spend our lives strung out between peak experiences, either remembering one that passed or looking forward to the next one.
Unfortunately, that compounds our unhappiness because of really bad math. If we need highlights to bring us happiness, we will spend most of our time on days without those new and awesome experiences. Think about it. How many “highlight” days are there really?
Here’s the Math
- Personal Graduations: 6 (Kindergarten, Grade School, High School, Undergraduate, Masters, PhD)
- Get Your Driver’s License: 1
- Get Married: 1 (I’m assuming that any highlights from future marriages would be neutralized by the challenges of getting out of the first.)
- Birth of Children 2.4 (Based on Average number of Children per household)
- Wedding Anniversaries:43
- Children’s Graduation 14.4 (assuming all 2.4 kids get a PhD)
- Retirement Party:1
- Birthdays: 71 (average life expectancy of an American)
So when you add it all up:
- Total number of days with peak experiences 140 (rounded up)
- Total number of days lived: 25,932 (71 x 365+leap years)
- .539% of your days are traditional peak experiences.
There might be other “highlights” to your life, and some of what I’m including might not apply. But even if you had three times as many highlight days (maybe you want to add in the best days that you share with your spouse or children on their peak days), you’re still only looking at around 1% of your days being awesome.
That means that 99% of the time you are thinking of another day. That seems awful. There are a lot of ways to get around this, but it seems like the more you can create satisfaction from “non-peak” days, the more likely you are to be happy on any given day.
How can you be happy today?