You want to be happy. You know it in your heart, and research confirms it too. A few years ago, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert wrote a fascinating book called Stumbling on Happiness. His central premise is that “people want to be happy, and all the other things they want are typically meant to be a means to that end.” In other words, the reason behind every other reason we do anything — why we work hard in school or why we’re lazy, why we pursue certain relationships or end them, why we sit down to read or binge on Netflix — is an unending quest for joy.
Happiness in the Twilight Zone
Rocky Valentine epitomizes our problem. Rocky stars in an episode of Twilight Zone (airing in the 60s) and is an unlucky, small-time thief who dies early in the episode. In the afterlife, Rocky wakes up next to a man named Pip, who he believes to be his guardian angel. Pip promises to give him whatever he desires. Rocky asks for the best the world has to offer: unlimited luck at the casino, to be desired by beautiful women, for universal acclaim, and more.
At first, the land where Rocky’s dreams come true seems like paradise, but as months go by, the life that Rocky thought he’d always wanted has lost its magic. In fact, it has grown positively distasteful to him. In a moment of rage, Rocky grabs Pip, his “guardian angel,” and says, “If I gotta stay here another day, I’m gonna go nuts! I don’t belong in heaven, see? I want to go to the other place.”
“Heaven?” his guardian angel replies, “Whatever gave you the idea that you were in heaven. This is the other place!”