People are always quick to answer that question. Internal. Right?
That is the answer we want to hear as it puts you in ultimate control. After all, we would hate our happiness to be controlled by external things, especially other people.
True happiness is something we must find within ourselves…or is it?
Scientists have been looking into the subject for some time and the answer is pretty clear: external.
Brent Smith in his book, Jump Start Your Social Life, made an excellent point that when you ask someone “what was the happiest moment of your life?” they rarely tell you about a time they were all alone meditating. It is almost always something involving other people.
And, be honest, nothing has more power to make you feel good or bad than another person.
That is exactly what Dr. Shira Gabriel found. That social events and people have the biggest impact on our potential pain and happiness.
What Makes Us Feel the Best Also Makes Us Feel the Worst: The Emotional Impact of Independent and Interdependent Experiences. Self and Identity. Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2011
It makes sense as science is finding that our brains are hardwired to be social.
As argued in the book, Addiction as an Attachment Disorder, when our brains do not receive the relationships they expect and crave, we usually end up with some type of addiction to try to compensate (drugs, sex, pornography, etc.).
How much is a good friendship worth? According to Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, about an extra $100,000 per year. Ya, so quite a bit. Furthermore, it goes on to show that severed social bonds can cause long-term health problems.
There may be a microscopic minority who can find true happiness by meditating on a mountain somewhere or playing with his computer in his room all day, but you are probably not in that minority.
And if you think you are, try this: go talk to a complete stranger. Give some random person on the street a sincere compliment. If you can’t do it or if you find yourself enjoying the pleasure of their company, you are probably lying to yourself.
Let’s wrap it up by looking at the book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. The author, Martin Seligman, talks about what makes us the happiest:
- Being Married (very strong)
- Rich Social Network (very strong)
- Living in a Wealthy Nation (strong)
- Religion (moderate)
- Avoiding Negative Emotions (moderate)
He also talks about what doesn’t work too well:
- Making More Money
- Being Healthy
- Sunny Weather
Notice that 4 of the top 5 has to do with relationships (our spouse, our friends, our culture/nation, and even religion usually means a strong, close, supportive community in our lives)?
And what most people think will bring them happiness (money, health, education, and nice weather) doesn’t.
It really is all about other people. External!
However, ultimately, you must decide whether to let people in so you can experience true happiness.
And no matter how much pain you received from others, cutting off all of humanity isn’t the answer.
But you can choose who you want in your life.
And there is somewhere you belong.
So go find it!