What happens doesn’t matter all that much

by | May 2, 2023 | Featured, General Productivity

Takeaway: When it comes to how we experience life, two things matter: what happens, and how we think about what happens. Which of the two is more important is debatable Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 58s.

I have a theory about the events that make up our lives: what happens doesn’t matter as much as we think. When it comes to our happiness and overall life satisfaction, what is of greater importance is how we relate to what happens.

Take, for example, when expectations skew how we perceive our days and our life. When things go as expected, we feel good and comfortable. When things exceed expectations, we’re unexpectedly delighted (and our brain rewards us on a chemical level, as I write in How to Calm Your Mind). Likewise, when something doesn’t meet our expectations, it can feel like a letdown.

This post riffs on some of the ideas in my latest book, How to Calm Your Mind.

By default, nearly all our expectations are wrong. This should not come as a surprise: it’s impossible to predict the future and how events will unfold.

When you think about it, that means things rarely go “right” or “wrong.” They just go differently than expected. These events still affect our life in positive and negative ways. But so does how we relate to those experiences.

(Expectations are nowhere near the only thing that skew our perception of reality. We each have countless biases, inaccurate mental models, and self-talk that influence how we see the world.)

Here’s an idea I’ve been thinking about lately. The things we experience contribute to our overall happiness and life satisfaction. But how we relate these events is important, too. So how much does each factor matter?

When it comes to happiness and satisfaction, we tend to think that the experiences that comprise our life matter more:

In practice, though, how we perceive our situation can fundamentally shift our happiness and satisfaction. In my opinion, the ratio looks more like this:

I personally think that how we relate to our life matters more than what we experience at face value. Happiness, satisfaction, and even calm come more from how we choose to experience and respond to the events in our lives.

The bottom line is this: when it comes to living a good life, we probably focus too much on how we can change our life for the better. It’s critical that we also change our mindset around how we relate to life, too.


Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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