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Happiness and Uncertainty

This lesson is a part of an audio course How to Thrive During Uncertainty by Julia Barbosa

In this lesson, we will explore how uncertainty and happiness can go hand in hand.

In uncertain times, it is easy to think that it is impossible to be happy. We often think that our plans and goals will make us happy.

But that is not the case. Research demonstrates that significant life changes, good or bad, only temporarily impact our happiness. A classic study by Philip Brickman and Dan Coates of Northwestern University shows that people who have terrible accidents and become paralyzed, after a couple of years are as happy as they were before. Conversely, those who win the lottery experience a short-lived peak of happiness, then returning to their previous happiness levels.

That is because happiness is not, as we like to believe, driven by our circumstances or the external environment. Attitude is much more important.

That means that even when things are chaotic and out of control, it is possible to be happy.

We like to think that income, prestige, status, will bring a certain level of certainty to our lives. But there's no indication that any particular level of income or type of job eliminates uncertainty. In fact, how we see the world and how we measure and respond to uncertainty is much more linked to ourselves and our attitude.

This is helpful because during uncertain times we can't control the environment, but we can control our attitude.

Another thing to remember is that even in times of significant change, there is a lot that remains the same. When we notice the change in our lives, that becomes more apparent than everything else which is not changing, and we tend to focus more on that.

Focus on the Positives

Some people like to take difficult situations and focus on what they have learned from them, looking for a silver lining.

Let me tell you a personal story. A few years ago, working on a big Christmas marketing campaign for an NGO, I made a big mistake. Thousands of letters were printed and mailed with incorrect information. I watched with dread as donors contacted the organization, unable to do anything to fix the problem. But two weeks later, a surprise: the campaign was performing better than expected.

This is not to say that things will turn out okay no matter what: it is simply a recognition that the lessons from difficult situations may not be what we think they are. In fact, many important lessons come from unexpected discoveries that make us look at things differently, providing a new angle that we wouldn't have encountered otherwise.

In a time of uncertainty, you can take time to appreciate what you have learned, and reflect on what that period has taught you that you might not have learned otherwise.

And uncertainty invites creativity. When things are changeable, there's more space to think differently, to find new solutions for old problems, and to try something new. Uncertainty gives us permission to depart from old ways and see things in a new light. It can be a path to creativity and innovation.

When you find yourself in an uncertain situation, remember that it is a good time to explore happiness and creativity, and see the same situation in a different way. You can even learn to embrace uncertainty as a positive thing!

In the next lesson, we will talk about accepting that uncertainty is part of life.

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Written by

Julia Barbosa

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