The mind’s accumulation of positive emotional experiences, minus its negative ones, determines a person’s happiness level. When happy thoughts outweigh brooding ones we will be happy. When the reverse is true—if we insist on seeing (and dwelling on) what’s wrong with things rather than what’s right—we’ll feel a bit down.
Happiness Math hinges on two important things:
• Recognizing the value of capturing and creating positive emotional experiences, plus
• Managing out (or minimizing) the negatives.
When we maximize the pluses and minimize the minuses, we are in a great position to maintain a positive point of view.
A recent Pew Research Center survey asked Americans where they would most like to live. Almost half wish they lived somewhere else. This surprised me. Where you live is a choice. Wheels are round for a reason. They roll pretty much as far as you need to go.
This October telephone survey of 2,260 adults uncovered new attitudes and confirmed age-old trends, including gaps in age, gender, and political ideology.
According to the study, city dwellers commonly dream of living somewhere else. Men in rural areas are far happier there than women. Living in Las Vegas appeals more to males than females, while affluent adults are twice as likely as poorer ones to desire Boston. Young people like mega-cities such as New York and Los Angeles. And, in perhaps a true sign the apocalypse is bearing down upon us, more Americans would prefer to live in a place with more McDonald’s than more Starbucks. From that stat you may draw your own conclusion.
Denver, San Diego, and Seattle are the top picks of the 30 largest metropolitan areas, with Denver favored among Republicans, yet also rating well with Democrats. Other favorite Republican cities are Phoenix, Orlando and San Antonio. Half of all liberals would like to live in San Francisco, more than double the share of conservatives. San Diego, once a bastion of conservatism, now appeals to Democrats, liberals, and moderates. Good weather and the beach apparently triumph ideology.
Nearly half of those surveyed (46%) said they would prefer to live in a different type of community than the one they now reside. While 57% of urban dwellers younger than 30 say the city is where they want to live, older neighbors feel differently: City dwellers 50-to-64 are least likely to say they live in the ideal place. Country dwellers the same age feel markedly different; two-thirds say they could not imagine living anywhere else.
What surprises me most from the Pew findings is that barely half of those surveyed (52%) are happy where they are, and that while less than half in the city feel it’s an ideal way to live, wanting to live outside it does not mean people reject urban lifestyles. Developments with an urban flair that combine housing, stores, and offices in a neighborhood setting are popular and growing.
To understand the frames from which these opinions were voiced, it’s important to remember how opinions are formed in the first place. Opinions are the percolated result of thoughts accumulated over time. These thoughts come from an octopus of sources: experiences, friends, news stories, comparisons, research, economic and social framing, etc. As they accumulate, these thoughts are weighed against “the theoretical ideal,” which may or may not exist. Shangri-La is a Hollywood nirvana, an invention, a phantom society. Yet many are tempted to measure a very real place (where they live) against an imaginary, non-existent ideal.
What creates positive emotional thoughts and experiences? Many things. Among them: how we’re raised, values shaped during childhood, core beliefs, the lenses through which we look at life . . . all of these (and many more) shape and reshape opinions. But a huge determining factor in shaping a positive or negative conclusion is how someone chooses to look at life and its surrounding elements.
We find in life what we look for. When we look for what’s good in a person, job, city, or situation, that’s exactly what we’ll see: what’s good about it.
But choose to look at what’s bad and guess what we find? The negatives, of course. This is why struggling relationships often accelerate south. By focusing on what’s wrong with each other instead of what’s right, the continual reinforcement of negative ideas snowballs. The power to choose positives over negatives is buried under an avalanche of negative conclusions. We will ourselves to negative conclusions.
What else creates negative thoughts? Stress will. Dwelling on uncontrollable things will. So too will the daily frustrations that result from our growing “do it yourself” society.
America was formerly a service-oriented economic society, where assistance was bundled with products. A business’s brand equity accumulated over time, built by its client base’s experiential loyalty.
Our economy is being divorced from that now; products are stripped away from service and sold standalone. As such they are commodities, with dwindling levles of acceptable service. We have been driven into a consumer-driven society where relentless consumption is never enough. “More” is the new “enough.” We have traded positive service experiences for do-it-yourself, high velocity consumption.
Gasoline stations used to be full-service. So were travel agencies, stockbrokers, grocery, and hardware stores. No longer. Today’s shopping experience has changed.
Today each of us services more and more of what we buy. Order on-line and who spends the time and repetitive data entry required to do so? Have a question; wait a couple days until a computer gets back to you.
Head out to a brick and mortar location and find what you need. Who carries, scans, and bags it? Businesses will gladly take your money while you do the work.
Day after day these burdens relentlessly shoved back upon us create negative emotional experiences large and small. Over time these accumulated negative emotional experiences morph into frustration. Sometimes frustration comes quickly. Other times it builds.
While it’s important to manage out life’s negative emotional experiences, a person’s true power is enhanced by his or her willingness to create happiness and positive emotional experiences in the lives of others. Do this and everyone wins. The recipient has a positive emotional experience from the gratitude generated by kind gestures. As importantly, we feel good for having created them.
Positive emotional experiences are important. Do not leave their creation for the next guy. Look for them, create them, and live in a world surrounded by many. And do so while minimizing the negatives.
Happiness is, after all, a math problem. Treat it as such and you’ll earn a well deserved “A.”
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