Is There a Global Decline in Happiness? Let’s Look At One of The Causes

In 2010, scientists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert asked 5 000 people of ages 18 to 88 a straightforward question that was key to their work’s deconstruction and understanding of the happiness equation. The question: How are you feeling right now?

Nervous? Intrigued? A little hungry? 

How happy are you right now?

According to Google Trends, ‘happiness’ was searched more than ever before in 2020, and understandably so. The global pandemic threw the world into an underpass; we became a people limping towards hope on the other end. But humanity’s quest for happiness has been a relay race [more than] two-thousand years in the making. 

Generation after generation, we rush headlong towards the goal of unveiling the ‘secret’ to happiness. And yet now it seems as though the chasm of discontent and unhappiness is inching wider and wider. Happiness is receding across the world.

Are we missing something here? 

Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all—a unique ability that, among many things, allows us to learn, reason, and plan. (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010) But does it come at an emotional cost?  

Here’s what research found: 

Our minds wander a lot. 

On average, mind-wandering happens 47% of the time, 30% in the middle of activities like reading or conversing with friends, and 10% of the time in the middle of…you know. 

All that wandering, as Killingsworth concludes, negatively affects our well-being. 

Mind-Wandering and Unhappiness 

According to this study, you are less happy when your mind is detached from the present moment. Regardless of the nature of your wandering thoughts, whether they are as pleasant as taking your dream vacay in Bora-Bora or marrying your childhood boyband crush, the results are ultimately the same.

 

Now, you might be thinking, do we mind-wander because we’re unhappy or are we unhappy because we mind-wander? Is it a causation or simply a correlation? 

It turns out there is a strong relationship between mind-wandering now and being unhappy later—a conclusion consistent with the idea that mind-wandering is causing people to be unhappy. On the other hand, there is no relationship between being unhappy now and then mind-wandering later. 

The Contents of Daily Joy

People experience things in different ways, and while happiness may seem like a straightforward emotion, the context and personal meaning tied to how we go through the motion of these experiences are nuanced and vary greatly.

Although this study was a breakthrough in the scientific exploration of unhappiness, we’ve only just begun to crack the surface of a deeper, more complex component of the human psyche.

So, if you’re going to take away anything from this post, take this:

  • Choose to live fully within each God-given moment, for it is a gift in and of itself.
  • Chase meaning > Avoid discomfort
  • Do away with passivity.
  • Participate in the creation of meaningful work.
  • Anchor yourself in God’s truth.
  • Always find something to be grateful for every day.

Happiness, it seems, is not as far away as we think it is.

May I suggest this wholesome illustration about happiness?