The pressure to be excited
We live in a world where we are encouraged from all sides to be excited about everything. This is a part of a cultural shift towards hyping everything. This has become extreme now so that when passing someone the salt we are no longer surprised to be told ‘fantastic’. If we agree to shift an appointment time is now ‘perfect’. When anyone presents something on social media or general media, they are now “super excited” to be here. Of course, this cultural shift is affecting the younger members of society the most since they cannot remember when people’s reactions were more measured. As these youngsters get into relationships therapists like me see the issue of ‘excitement expectation’ more and more.
Excitement is a marketing ploy
Marketers have known for decades that excitement produces action and motivation. If you produce marketing that shows people who are excited about the product, it is more likely to produce action in the prospective buyer.
In “The Psychology of Social Shopping,” Paloma Vasquez says:
“In a state of excitement or arousal, people think and behave very differently. Emotional states trump rational thinking; it’s easier to sell to consumers when they are excited”.
Seinfeld noticed this and brought it to his routine. There are all sorts of reasons for this. Excitement brings energy and we understand that success in life needs energy. So, the link with success is made and people naturally want to be associated and connected with success, even if this means buying something they do not need.
Your body, run by your amazing brain, is constantly working to balance everything out and return to a normal (regulated) state. This force is called the homeostatic force. This is the first problem with excitement as a goal. However excited you get your brain will quickly return you to a normal state. But wait, it’s worse than that. Not only does your brain work tirelessly to return you to a normal state, but it also learns quickly from your behaviour. In other words, the next time you do the same thing, your brain will act much more quickly to regulate you. This is called the law of diminishing returns and is probably the biggest reason that excitement is not a good aim. Of course, this idea also includes drinking and drugging. Whatever the effect of the drug your brain is working hard to regulate you and reduces the effects massively over time.
All drug users and drinkers know this and have experienced it in their addictions and dependencies. As a therapist that works with many young couples, I see it just as much as a component of relationships.
I have lost count of the young people who have sat in my counselling room and complained that there is no excitement in their relationship anymore. This is often said after only a couple of years of marriage. I always work with them in the same way. I question the idea of excitement as a useful aim within a profound, intimate, and lasting relationship. That’s not to say that excitement does not play a part in life, or relationships. But like happiness, it’s best to think of excitement as a consequence rather than a cause. Of course excitement forms a part of what couples therapists think of as the first of three phases in substantial relationships. This is known as the honeymoon phase.
Contentedness is a much better aim because, as a state, it includes experiencing both positive and negative experiences. To be content is to be happy whatever happens. Accepting good and bad in life.
Contentedness over happiness
So what’s the problem with happiness? Happiness is a word that stems from other words like what ‘happens’ and old words like ‘happenstance’. This means that happiness is a state produced when you like what happens. But do you always like what happens?
If happiness is your aim, then you are going to put your partner under the sort of extreme pressure that no one could bear. No one can live up to this pressure. A big part of healthy relationships is coming to terms with the difference between you and your partner. Learning to compromise and sacrifice, to create equality with committed communication. To enter a lifelong journey of learning about each other and celebrating the difference. This is why contentedness is a much better aim than happiness. But does it beat excitement?
Contentedness over excitement
So what’s the problem with excitement? excitement is a heightened state of being, produced by chemicals from your brain. This is not easy to control or produce. It is generally easiest to produce through new experiences. This is why ‘one night stands’ can easily produce excitement, and why one night stands or the temptation of affairs are such a big problem for people wanting to be faithful in their marriage. When presented with the opportunity for an affair, we are often unwittlingly put in the position of comparing the most exciting version of one person, with the most boring version of another! So you can see how temptation is often so difficult to resist.
When I ran Rehabs, working with thousands of clients over the years, I often worked with young people who were frustrated because the old drugs were not working any more. But they had been unable to find any substitute that matched the excitement of the first few drug experiences. Often they would only feel the final vestige of the excited experience, which was the feeling of waiting for the drug dealer to turn up! This happens because the memory of the dealer turning up with the drugs goes back to the original experience of using the drugs. Whilst the act of taking the drugs themselves is a current experience that is chemically reacted to by the brain. Very frustrating for the addicted person!
So happiness and excitement are consequences rather than causes. Contentment itself can cause them. But only contentment is profound, long lasting, and something that can be deepened over time. So ask yourself now, how content are you? What is it that you are unhappy about? I am not suggesting that you do nothing about your unhappiness, it is a sign that something is wrong. I am suggesting that excitement has no future, and that it is not your partners job to excite you, because excitement comes from you, not them! Because excitement is a consequence, not a cause. If you are discontent, consider talking about this rather than acting out of it. Whether you are struggling with addiction or in your relationship, look to contentment as your aim.