Have you ever met anyone who did not want more happiness? It is one of the central motivators in our lives. No matter what you are doing, is there not some immediate or assumed future payoff in terms of greater happiness?
I have written previously about some of the key contributors that Positive Psychology research has shown lead to greater happiness. However, research has also identified some of the most common happiness traps.
Here are 3 you might recognize:
Discounting Happiness, Now – We often discount happiness now, for an idea that we can have more in the future. This can lead to what is called “medium maximization”, where we set about accumulating a medium such as money – which has no inherent value but is easier to measure – in the belief it will translate into greater future happiness. However, if we get too focused on the medium, we miss the intended outcome.
Superiority Drive – We can easily get caught up in a strong drive for superiority, incorrectly assuming the anticipated payoff in greater recognition, material goods and control will outweigh what is lost in terms of relationships and peace of mind. The research actually indicates excessive superiority drive not only lowers happiness, principally by hammering our relationships, but can also lower your performance in many creative, social and cognitive tasks.
Confusing The Passing, With The Permanent – We can confuse sensory pleasures, excitement, and hubris pride for happiness. The former are all passing experiences, that can be intense and often addictive, but do not deliver long lasting happiness. The fleeting nature of passing pleasures guarantees a corresponding bloom of dissatisfaction in their wake, as the mind seeks to replace what is no longer here.
What to do?
Here are 3 tips to help you navigate past the most common happiness traps:
Define What Makes You Happy – Come up with a personal definition of happiness. Positive psychology tells us we are generally happier when we are emotionally engaged, or have a strong sense of belonging, in our key personal and professional relationships. We are happier when our work and play gives us more autonomy, allows us to express our talents, and proceed towards some level of mastery. And we are happier when our lives give us more meaning, which for most us boils down to spending time with the people and activities that make us feel we are making a difference. Take the time to come up with a sentence or two that defines what truly makes you happy.
Practice Gentleness and Presence – We are way too hard on ourselves. We also mistakenly believe slowing down to prioritize gentleness, kindness and presence will make us soft and ineffective. It’s not true. Taking the time to let go of judgments and striving to be more gentle and present translates into a big boost of happiness. And when we focus more of our attention on what is happening now, as opposed to what we want to, or fear will, happen, we have greater resources available to accurately assess and respond wisely. And when we let go of the constant stiving, we are far more likely to experience more flow and higher functioning in our social, strategic and productive activities.
Don’t Mind The Mind – Evolution has dictated that the human mind is an overly active, negatively biased, judging, comparing and desiring machine. Gratuitous thinking is the mind’s comfort zone where it feels most productive and in control. And, if your mind spends too much time in the future, the tell tale sign is anxiety. Too much time focused on the past, can lead to sadness. Too much time comparing with others, leads to pride or envy. Too much effort spent resisting what is, leads to irritation or excessive desire.
“Leave your front door and your back door open.
Allow your thoughts to come and go.
Just don’t serve them tea.”
– Shunryu Suzuki
Just let the mind be the mind. Know that the mind will always be wanting things differently. Taking attention off the thoughts that compose the mind, leaves you with nothing to resist and nothing that is needed. (Otherwise known as peace and happiness.) A simple mindfulness practice can go a long way to help you recognize you do not have to let your attentions rest on your thoughts. Let the mind, be the mind. Or, to paraphrase one great teacher on the topic: You do not have to change the tendencies of the mind [restless, judging, striving] to know the nature of your mind. If you know the nature of your mind, [a bunch of passing thoughts, of dubious accuracy, made of nothing, appearing in intangible, inherently peaceful awareness] the tendencies of your mind will gradually and effortlessly change by themselves.
Doing a few things each day that prioritize happiness, can have a big payoff in anyone’s life.
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