You know what will make you happy.
You’ll be happy when he finally commits.
You’ll be happy when he gives up that habit that drives you crazy.
You’ll be happy when you’re married and settled down with a family.
But what if the thing you think will make you happy…
Ends up making you unhappy in the end?
You’ll Be Happy When…
So much of our lives are driven by the pursuit of happiness.
We decide where to eat based on the pleasure we think a certain restaurant will give us.
We decide where to work based on the pleasure we think the job will give us (even if that pleasure is purely monetary).
We even decide which relationships to pursue based on how happy we believe they’ll make us.
But it turns out that we’re not very good at predicting what will make us happy.
Your guy finally commits, and a whole new set of problems springs up in your relationship.
Your guy gives up that habit that drives you crazy, but another habit of his starts getting on your nerves.
You marry and start a family, only to find yourself overwhelmed with the stress of juggling work and children and a husband.
No matter how much you want something right now…
No matter how certain you are that you need it to be happy…
There’s a very good chance that it won’t change how you feel.
This is called miswanting.
Wanting Vs. Miswanting
What makes you want something?
Usually, it’s the pleasure you imagine you’ll derive from having it.
But we’re not always right.
Sometimes we want something and then find out we don’t actually like it once we get it. That’s miswanting.
Oscar Wilde explained it beautifully in this quote:
“In the world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
Examples of Miswanting
One research study tested the allure of free ice cream every day for a month.
Participants were asked beforehand how much they thought they’d enjoy it. Free ice cream every day? Of course they’d enjoy it!
But once the month was over, they found it wasn’t as pleasurable as expected.
The degree to which we want something doesn’t predict how much we’ll like it once we actually have it.
For example, you start seeing a new guy. Every date is amazing. You can’t wait until you’re officially together so that you can see him all the time.
But those amazing early dates mislead you.
Once you’re seeing each other regularly, the pleasure of seeing him settles down. It’s nice, but it’s no longer amazing. In fact, it’s kind of boring.
Miswanting can lead us to make poor decisions.
We’re certain that winning the love of a specific person will make us happy forever more…
Only to find out that we didn’t take into account the problems and stresses that having a relationship with them would bring.
Make Better Decisions
So how can you avoid miswanting and make sure you’ll actually enjoy what you wanted and worked so hard to get?
Here are three tips.
#1. Let Reality Intrude
When we want something, we imagine how amazing it will be to have it.
If you want fame, for example, you might imagine adoring crowds and a red carpet laid out for you.
The reality of fame doesn’t intrude into your fantasy. You don’t imagine photographers hiding in bushes, torrid headlines about you in trashy magazines, or trolls driving you off social media.
You know conceptually that these things might happen, but you don’t think they’ll happen to you.
Similarly, when people imagine being married, they visualize the positive aspects of marriage. They know that being married can be difficult, but they don’t imagine those difficulties affecting them.
A good way to make sure that what you want will be as good as you expect is to get real about the complications and difficulties you might experience.
You don’t want to visualize only the positive. You want to be prepared for anything.
2. Check Your Feelings
When you’re happy, you tend to think that everything will turn out great.
You’re in a good mood, and your optimism infects your decisions.
Similarly, when you’re in a bad mood, you tend to think that nothing will turn out right.
Your current mood colors how you think about the future.
When you’re lonely, you’re more likely to say yes to companionship that you’d otherwise decline.
When you’re feeling energetic, you’re more likely to commit to a project that requires tons of energy, a decision you may come to regret when you’re tired.
So take your mood into account.
Don’t make a big decision based on how you feel right now. Make sure that it still seems like a good decision when you’re in a different mood.
3. Let the Novelty Factor Wear Off
Many things are good in small portions.
A decadent square of chocolate, an ear-splitting rock concert, presents at Christmas.
Have them every day, as often as you want, and they lose the quality that made them special.
Similarly, you may love the time you spend with a certain guy when you don’t get to see him very often. But once you’re together full-time, you may discover that you don’t enjoy it as much.
You’ll want to see how a relationship feels when the novelty factor wears off. See how it feels when it’s just part of your ordinary everyday life.
Don’t be misled by how much you want something. Consider how you’ll feel after the novelty has worn off. Take into account how your current mood might be shaping your decision. Brainstorm what kinds of problems might come from getting what you want.
Then you can be sure that you’ll actually enjoy what you’ve wanted so much.