-I recently met a guy who, despite having a massively successful business, an awesome lifestyle, a happy relationship, and a great network of friends, told me with a straight face, that he was thinking of hiring a coach to help him “reach the next level.”
When I asked him what this elusive next level was, he said he wasn’t sure, that that’s why he needed a coach, to point out his blind spots and show him what he’s missing out on.
“Oh,” I said. And then stood there awkwardly for a moment, gauging how brutally honest I was willing to be with someone I just met. This guy was very enthusiastic, clearly ready to spend a lot of money on whatever problem someone decided to tell him he had.
“But what if there’s nothing to fix?” I said.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“What if there is no ‘next level?’ What if it’s just an idea you made up in your head? What if you’re already there and not only are you not recognizing it, but by constantly pursuing something more, you’re preventing yourself from appreciating it and enjoying where you are now?”
He bristled a bit at my questions. Finally, he said, “I just feel like I need to always be improving myself, no matter what.”
This story, told by the journalist Mark Manson, could be a problem that affects us all. What if we were suffering from the “Disease of More”?
The Disease of More
Pat Riley, a famous basketball coach in the NBA, said that the fall of the Lakers after his period of stardom and glory in the 1980s, was due to the fact that the players focused too much on themselves and wanted more and more.
He says that at the beginning, the players only wanted to win the championship, but once they became champions, it was not enough. Their attention was focused on other things: getting more money, more TV ads, more support and praise, more time in the game, more media attention and a long etcetera.
As a result, what was once a cohesive group began to fray. When the “Disease of More” came, as the coach called it, the team’s perfect chemistry became a toxic disaster.
This was not the first sports team to go through that situation and it will not be the last one either. However, the most interesting thing is that we can all suffer the “Disease of More” and be trapped in the labyrinth of the dissatisfaction that we build ourselves.
More is not always better
Throughout the history of Psychology, the psychologists focused on analyzing what caused the mental problems. Their interest for happiness is very recent. One of the first studies in this field was a simple survey in which the participants had to answer two questions:
1) On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy do you feel at this moment?
2) What has happened to cause those feelings?
Ed Diener, a psychologist at the University of Utah, collected thousands of data from hundreds of people in all areas of life. And he discovered a surprising phenomenon although, in a certain way, also quite boring.
Almost everyone reported a 7 for much of the time.
In the store doing shopping. Seven. In their son’s football game. Seven. Talking to the boss about a sale. Seven.
Even when big problems occurred, the level of happiness decreased in a range of 2 to 5, but for short periods of time, then rose again quickly.
The same thing happened with very positive events, such as winning the lottery, going on vacation or even getting married, the valuations were triggered but only for a short period of time and then returned to stabilize at number 7.
These results show that nobody is completely happy for most of the time but not completely unhappy either. It seems that we always think that things are going well, but that could go much better.
That constant 7, to which we return again and again, tends us a death trap because it tells us: “If you could have a little more, you could reach 10 and stay there”
Thus, we live much of our life chasing the dreamed 10. We believe that we will be happier when we’ll have that ideal job, when we’ll buy the new house, when we’ll go on vacation in that place, when we’ll find our middle half… The problem is that there is always more. We always want more.
In Psychology, that constant pursuit of pleasure is called “hedonic routine”, which means that we are constantly struggling to have a “better life”, but in the end the only thing we achieve is to spend a lot of energy to return to the same point: 7.
Does that mean that we should sit back and do nothing?
No, it means that we can feel happy right now and reach that 10, because we do not have to subject it to the things or goals we may have or achieve. There is always room for improvement, but there is no need to postpone our current happiness to what we can or cannot achieve in the future.
After all, in life, everything is not limited to constantly improve, always have more and always go further. At a certain point, life becomes more of a compensation game. When we reach a certain level, going further can mean spending too much time and energy on things that will not really make a difference and will not bring us closer to that 10 but will keep us in a 7.
Therefore, do not assume life as if it were a checklist of things to do or a mountain to climb. Life is rather a game of compensation in which we must choose what we are willing to give to get another rush of adrenaline, another trip, another success…
Diener, E. & Diener, C. (1996) Most people are happy. Psychological Science; 7(3): 181-184.
Diener, E (1994) Assessing Subjective Well Being: Progress and opportunities. Social Indicators Research; 28: 35-89.
Diener, E (1984) Subjective Well Being. Psychological Bulletin; 95: 542-575.