|There’s more to life than just being happy
Albert Schweitzer once said that “happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” In fact, Psychology Today observes that “critics often argue that the pursuit of happiness is a misguided goal; one that is fleeting, superficial and hedonistic.”
Research collaborates this.
Studies led by Iris Mauss from UC Berkeley reveal that people who place a very high premium on being happy report feeling even more lonely. In other words, being happy might be healthy, but craving and pursuing happiness can be a slippery slope.
Studies by Ed Diener, the winner of the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientist Award, observes that we actually pay an emotional price for continually pursuing intensely positive events. Why? Because later events, even moderately pleasant ones, seem less shiny by contrast. (“Sure, getting a raise feels terrific, but it might mean you fail to fully appreciate your son’s performance in the school play that afternoon.”)
I’m not denying the importance of happiness, but a well-lived life is far more than just feeling “happy.” The “good life” is best visualized as a matrix that includes happiness, occasional sadness, a sense of purpose, playfulness, psychological flexibility, autonomy, mastery and belonging.
We also need to remember that not only do people differ in what makes them happy; this shifts throughout their lives. I have a dear friend who was happiest when she was an elementary school principal for 25 years in charge of 400 children and 22 staff. She had to make all the decisions…and she told me this with such a light in her eyes. Now retired, I’ve heard that her greatest joy is now crocheting afghans for her friends as she listens to Harry Potter audios.
So what is it that makes us happy? Well…psychology is discovering that one element is in doing things that feel “risky, uncomfortable and occasionally scary.” In a 2007 study, Colorado State Psychologist Michael Steger found that when participants wrote down their daily activities and how they felt over 21 days, those who frequently felt curious on a given day also experienced the most satisfaction with their life. (They also engaged in the highest number of happiness-inducing activities such as expressing gratitude to a colleague or volunteering to help others.)
And here’s where it gets interesting. Curiosity is largely about exploration, and exploration can come at the price of momentary unhappiness. In fact, curious people generally accept the notion that part of being curious is also being uncomfortable or vulnerable, at least temporarily.
But being uncomfortable and vulnerable can also be the most direct routes to becoming stronger. In fact, Steiger’s study suggests that curious people invest in activates that cause them discomfort as a springboard to becoming wiser.
Of course, there are plenty of instances in life where the best way to increase your satisfaction is to simply do what feels good to you; whether it’s listening to that song that tugs at your heart, or having lunch with a dear friend. However, it also may be worth seeking out a novel experience; one that is complicated, uncertain, or even upsetting. The brain hates change, but it loves to create.
Let me finish this article by observing that most of us think our feelings come from what happens to us. If good things happen, we feel happy or satisfied; if bad things happen, we feel sad or mad. We therefore spend our time and energy attempting to rearrange our circumstances in order to insure our happiness. The fly in the ointment comes from those people who are in miserable situations and are happy and content. We have also met people who are in wonderful situations to die for, and literally wish they could.
So do you know what it is that enables those people in such miserable situations to feel so content? (And hold onto your seat.) It is not the events themselves, it is the beliefs about those events. Throughout my travels, I have met so many people who do not allow themselves to be victimized by their feelings when dealing with the hard times.
They know they have a choice when faced with those times, and that is to change their beliefs…to choose to see those circumstances differently…to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.
Is it easy? Of course not! But a wonderful characteristic of your mind is that when you make a decision, it agrees with you, whether it is true or not. And then when you lock onto seeing the glass as half full, it will do everything it can…to make this real in your life.
Steven Campbell is the author of "Making Your Mind Magnificent" and conducts "The Winners Circle" every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. He can be contacted at 480-5007 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to www.anintelligentheart.com.