Why a £2000 cheque doesn’t make you as happy as you think it would

Photo by PiggyBank on Unsplash

Yesterday, I was running around a little frantically between meetings. I take my lunch breaks seriously, but I also try and cook a proper lunch within them when I can.

I saw an ominous letter on the table. It was from HMRC, the UK’s tax authority. It had been redirected from my old flat in London. Cue internal fear as to whether I had broken the law in some way, or owed a lot of money to someone, despite not having even seen the letter contents.

The reality was the opposite – I had overpayed tax in the UK over the last year. As I had left my job mid-year, the amount I was taxed was higher than it ought to have been.

in my lap sat a cool cheque for a £2000 tax rebate. Happy days. I looked at my bank and thought about how nice the numbers would be in the account (it would take away a few minuses anyway!). I then mused whether this was karma for all my good deeds, or I had manifested some money coming into my life. Either way, I created some level of fantasy to tell myself I deserved this break.

After lunch, I went back to my daily work. I had a bunch of calls and a few reporting documents to write. These can be a bit tedious, and the calls turned out to be a little tense. Truthfully, It didn’t take me long to completely forget about the happy moment of receiving the money.

I had a late call which meant I needed to rush to the cinema to get there on time. I managed to catch the bus by jogging to the stop. So as I sat down on the seat somewhat out of breath, I had a moment to reflect on my day.

Remarkably, I spent a lot of time thinking about the calls I had and the work I was doing. I had basically forgotten about this magical sum of money that had appeared on my lap. Wow – that didn’t take long.

I moved on from the positives of receiving money very quickly, instead the small negative niggles were the first thing that came to my mind. Remarkable how our mind works?

A technique I could use would be to return to my gratitude around the situation I found myself in, and relativise the negative feelings I had about the meetings – after all I had a broadly ‘good’ day of work where I got a lot done. And this would help. It would give me perspective.

Yet the fundamental point is that by relying on my day to be dictated by the events within it, I was holding myself hostage to my happiness being set by the events of the day. As demonstrated here, the human mind has a tendency to move on from the positives rather quickly, instead focusing on the negatives more intensely.

So instead of basing my sense of contentment that happened during the day of whether I got some money, or whether I had a good (or bad) day, I can reframe this to understand that I can choose to be happy either way. By shifting my mindset to see that I can be happy no matter what life throws at me, it leaves me feeling lighter and happier.

This means, when I get something like a nice cheque of £2000, it’s an added bonus, rather than relying on that to make my day. Likewise, a bad meeting or an unproductive day at work doesn’t really have to make me feel worse, because ultimately my work doesn’t derive my happiness – I do.

Happiness is something that is in our natural state of being. When we stop all the other things – the planning, the stress and the worries – we can return to it. We don’t need to do anything to ‘become’ happy, rather it’s about dropping the things that are drawing our mind away from our natural state of wellbeing. From my experience, the stillness of the mind results in a general feeling of satisfaction and happiness.

So I’d invite you to reflect on when you last felt stillness. If you’d like, I’d love if you could share when it was, and what the situation was as well. You can either drop a comment below, or message me directly if you want to learn more about the natural state of happiness.

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