Why it’s a good idea to pursue happiness

A HIGH school teacher once blew my socks off with a simple, but magical, philosophy that I have tried to remember every day since then.

It’s not easy in a material world, but when you’ve got it, it works.

She said : I grant you one wish today. You may wish for anything except “more wishes’’; and you may not wish anything bad for someone else, as that’s just mean. State your wish and give me 200 words about it by the end of the week.

When we received back our marked assignments, Teacher X said that only four of us had cracked the code to a lovely life – but that she’d share it with us all, being the generous magi she was.

“When you make a wish, make it good enough to last your whole life through. Wishing for a horse may work now, but it may die or be sold by the time you’re 30. Similarly, purple stilettos are funky today, but so last year next year.”

The pupils (I wasn’t one of them) who had wished for happiness or contentment scored full marks for their essays. They had won fair and square, because they understood that happiness is a feeling, not a thing – and that if they were happy, it’s likely that they did have all the ‘‘things’’ that they coveted, and if not, they were happy anyway.

I thought about Teacher X recently while reading an article about psychologist Barry Schwartz, who argues that when we have too many choices, we’re likely to be far less happy than those with limited options, including money.

Choice overload is what he calls it. Social media has made it worse – we’re able to see into so many more lives across the world, realising that possibly thousands of people are having a more interesting, enthralling time than we are.

The problem with having more money, more choices, more options, he says, is that our expectations increase too. Alongside that, clinical depression, FOMO (fear of missing out), negative competitiveness and a sense of failure are all more likely bedfellows when we’re not content simply with what we have today.

To illustrate his point: back in our parents’ day people enjoyed instant coffee. A few decades later, we moved into better quality ‘‘instant’’ granules, then onto plungers with ground beans, then home-sized filter coffee machines and more recently, mini power-house brewing tools that shoot out espressos, cappuccinos and four different types of froth.

I like the fact that I have the choice – but when does it stop? Frankly, I don’t think it does.

Schwartz explains that we are surrounded by ‘‘maximizers’’ – people for whom only the best will do. But “maximizers” soon find it difficult to deal with just ‘’ good enough’’ – which is where we’re far better off, safe and happy.

Until recently, I’ve often felt a little envious of “maximizers”, as they’re so forward-thinking and on trend. Their stuff is also very cool and they always know more about current affairs than I do.

But I reckon that Schwartz has a point, just as Teacher X did. If it’s ‘‘good enough’’ for you, it will be “’good enough’’ for the people you love. And that’s more than enough, in the end.

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