Happiness Hyperopia

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The concept of Happiness Hyperopia is very interesting:

Overestimating the benefits we think we will accrue at some mythical time in the future.

There are people who “suffer” from this condition. But there are also people who do not. I asked my friend Steve a long time ago: What is more likely to happen? Overvaluing or undervaluing the future?

Steve’s reply:

“My take is that it depends on who it is. For example, someone who does a lot of hard-core drugs or gets a facial tattoo is obviously someone who is likely to undervalue the future. On the other hand, the person who toils away in a miserable job just for the money that he theoretically will spend when he retires is someone who overvalues the future.”

While Steve may be right, those are extreme examples. They are not demonstrative samples of the rest of us.

My estimation is that most people do suffer from happiness hyperopia, whatever it is they do. You don’t have to be an executive that works 70 hours a week to overvalue your future. Happiness hyperopia is what feeds consumerism: the constant illusion of a better future. We become victims of this “condition” frequently, no matter how many times we have been disappointed before. We bought that device, we got that job, we dated that girl, only to end up looking for something else.

There are many reasons happiness hyperopia to be so prominent:

- Tradition would be one. The mentality that religion has impregnated in our culture for hundreds of years is all about happiness hyperopia. What’s religion if not a promise of a heavenly future as long as you pay your dues on Earth?

- The increase of our life span also has huge effects on our way to see the future. When people lived 40 years and the fear of war or many deathly illnesses was constantly present, there weren’t many motivators to wait, invest and play the “hope” game. Now, with many of those fears mostly eradicated, we can expect a wonderful future if we work hard enough. Not that this future will ever come, though.

- When one gets rational about this, one can’t avoid considering the “live now” mentality as the best choice. The problem is that “living now” is not that easy either, because dying now is hard. When you know that there’s nothing after you die (which more and more people are believing), there’s a lot at stake on living like a rock star. Basically, those that live the moment and undervalue their future aren’t ready to say their goodbyes before their undervalued future catches up with them, which usually does in today’s world. People get to live for many years regretting their past decisions.

In the end, happiness hyperopia is all we have. We can’t go any other way because we’ve been trained to overvalue our future.

Trying to be realistic and being ready to settle is the best choice. It will bring the most tolerant misery (or the most realistic happiness).

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