Hey, Glamour Junkie! Addicted to Your Looks?
Consider this French phrase:
Le but de la société est le bonheur commun
(“The goal of society is common happiness”)
Not only is happiness the consumerist collective goal, it’s the ideal of every man, woman and child. Alas, the chase to feel good, by any means necessary, can be daunting. Research shows that humans tend to look for a standard level of happiness and well-being. The problem is that the standard itself is determined by preferences that are constantly changing.
In other words, what I like today may not make me happy tomorrow. Bykvist (2010) notes, “You may now endorse your frivolous life but later look back upon it with regret” (p. 554). Sure, my club-hopping, blackout-filled 20’s were fun at the time, but as a sober, late 30-something, that life seems ludicrous today. In fact, a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies questions the inconsistent nature of idealized standards of happiness throughout life.
The Inconsistency Dilemma
You are considering changing your hair color. The conundrum: You know that if you go blonde, you will eventually prefer basic black. And if you stay with basic black, you will still crave a change.
Pure diva dilemma, right? Considering these two alternatives, if happiness is defined by meeting standards, which life brings you the most happiness?
At one point in your life, platinum blond made you happy, but, at a later age, you may feel a more conservative look suits you. Furthermore, research shows that one possible life may measure up favorably to one life but may fail to meet the standards of another life. If we were to compare various hypothetical “lives”, we would find several possibilities for happiness, all dependent on preferences at different temporal points of life.
In Daniel M. Haybron’s book, The Pursuit of Unhappiness, the author writes, “Happiness is something deeper than mere affects that happen to us” (p. 69). The author emphasizes that happiness cannot be reduced to pleasure. One study pinpoints common traits among happy people, among them: Meaningful interpersonal lives and rich relationships.
Contrary to what one may think, pleasure doesn’t factor into these happy lives, at least not to the extent of the trait mentioned above. Engaging with others at interesting group meetups, social events, by volunteering, and connecting with friends regularly, on the other hand, does. Furthermore, hedonism, or pleasure seeking, may in fact be a pathway to addiction.
Take the case of Chris U., a young man in recovery from addiction (of many varieties). Here’s a breakdown of Chris’s past addictions:
● Hair color
● Hair styles
● Illicit Drugs/Alcohol
Chris was a poly-substance abuser, formerly addicted to uppers, downers, and all-arounders. He stopped using drugs and switched to tattoos until it became financially unmanageable. At last he found himself changing his hair color and hair style nearly every day.
In Chris’s case, the compliments, or “positive inputs,” he received after changing his hairstyle or getting a new tattoo became addictive. One study even shows a significant relationship between physical attractiveness and psychological well-being.
But eventually Chris needed an increased number of inputs to achieve the same subjective affects. The brain’s hedonic capacity–ability to experience pleasure in response to stimuli that are typically rewarding–is compromised in addiction. In other words, his tolerance rose and he needed higher doses of the “drug” (tattoos, hairstyles, haircuts) to get “high.”
In Chris’s words, “I don’t know what else to say, except, more is never enough.”
The Elusive High
To illustrate this point further, one study compared lottery winners with people who experienced no sudden gain. The results demonstrated that the lottery winners were not happier – and even appeared to obtain less pleasure from daily activities – than non-winners. This flies in the face of the belief that an exciting experience or positive life change directly correlates to happiness.
Research shows that individuals maintaining states of high happiness rarely feel euphoric or ecstatic. By contrast, they possess an even-keeled nature which helps them function amid unpleasant situations.
Addiction is the antithesis to this. Addicted individuals crave a highly stimulating experience through a substance or event, which, neuro-chemically, leads to an even more severe plunge in mood. The elusive high becomes the inevitable low, and the active individual finally realizes it’s all a ruse.
Pleasure, glamour appeal, sudden bouts of ecstasy: We all mistakenly go down this misleading path in search of happiness from time to time. In the end, we’re left feeling unfulfilled by temporary pleasure and perhaps, depressed about our dwindling bank accounts. But there is hope and, more importantly, a better way.
According to Diener & Seligman (2002), “Extraversion, low neuroticism, and relatively low levels of psychopathology form necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for high happiness. Thus, there appears to be no single key to high happiness that automatically produces this state. Instead, high happiness appears to have a number of necessary preconditions that must be in place before it occurs” (p. 83). As the research indicates, strong, healthy relationships certainly qualify as one of these preconditions.
So what happened to our good friend Chris? Well, he had an epiphany of sorts. Today, through a beaming smile, Chris claims, “Happiness comes from being ok with myself. I work long hours for low pay but I’m pretty happy with who I am, and that’s enough for the time being.”
À la votre !
Anjali Talcherkar, M.A., holds a Master’s degree in Psychology with a specialization in Addiction Studies. She is currently finishing her Ph.D. in Integrative Medicine from Saybrook University. Anjali has assisted at UCLA’s Center for Addictive Behavior and at Cambridge Health Alliance’s Division on Addiction, thru Harvard University Medical School. Anjali’s blogs have appeared on rehabreviews.com, AddictionUnscripted.com, Addiction Professional, Fulfillment Daily, Prevail Health, and The BASIS (Brief Addiction Science Information Source). Anjali’s personal recovery journey also motivates and informs her current work.
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