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Five Ways to Rethink Happiness

Five Ways to Rethink Happiness

“Who wants happiness?”  The teacher asked her pupils.  All the children raised their hands signifying they want happiness.  And then, the teacher asked them again, “Who wants loneliness?”  The classroom was so quiet, the teacher thought nobody wants loneliness; however, there was one pupil who stood up and said, “Teacher, I also want loneliness.”  And so the teacher asked her pupil, “You raised your hand a while ago for happiness. Why do you want loneliness too?”  The pupil answered, “It is through loneliness that we will appreciate the real meaning of happiness!”

So true, we all want happiness in this world.  Parents send their kids to school to have a happy life someday.  We work to support our family and make them happy.  Some miserable and desperate people think they can buy happiness only to find out ultimately that it’s not for sale!   Happiness is priceless! It is also free.

What is Happiness?

Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, translates happiness as “good spirit… human flourishing… and life well lived.”  While Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in his classic work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, as “it is being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.”

Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, challenges the conventional wisdom about happiness.  He advocates what he calls the “negative path” to happiness, in that it involves embracing the negative and he suggests several ways that we need to think differently about happiness.

Five (5) Ways to Think Differently About Happiness

Here is my disclaimer. Just because we are listing these, do not necessarily mean that we personally agree or endorse these thoughts.  In fact, we strongly believe that everyone has the complete right to find their own path to happiness. But hopefully these thoughts could trigger something inside that could prevent confusion about the most important (arguably, of course!) thing in life. So let us see if we can rethink happiness.

  1. Instead of positive thinking, practice mindful, non-judgmental awareness of your thoughts.  Being judgmental often serves to prevent us from genuine connections with other people, genuine self-awareness, and living our most meaningful and valuable lives.  There’s no room for negativity if you want to be happy!
  2. Instead of setting audacious goals for success, practice non-attachment to the outcome of your actions.  Burkeman cites several corporations that have abandoned goal-setting, after finding goal-odicy often had unintended consequences, such as diverting resources away from other important work and ignoring (or even covering up) evidence of failure. (Note from author: Burkeman is probably not an entrepreneur, since they would scoff at this idea. Goal-centered thinking has been at the root of accomplishment since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. However, the damaging aspects of goal centered thinking are evident in the high levels of fight-and-flight tendencies in people that we see everyday.  The question really is, how to stay goal centered without losing sight of the big picture?)
  3. Instead of seeking stability, dance with uncertainty and even failure. We all think that stability and permanence will make us happy, right? Well, those things don’t really exist.  The only permanent thing is change! We are impermanent. We are always changing, flowing just like that river we can never step in twice. If you fail, embrace it. We need to think like scientists, who learn as much from the experiment that fails as the one that succeeds.
  4. Instead of envisioning your completely satisfied self, consider the worst possible scenarios. While daydreaming can have positive psychological benefits, researcher Gabrielle Oettingen has found that “spending time and energy thinking about how well things could go … actually reduces most people’s motivation to achieve them.” Visualizing the good outcome produces relaxed and happy thoughts, which, to the brain, feel just like actually having accomplished it!
    Daniel Gilbert writes, “Anticipating unpleasant events can minimize their impact…. [F]ear, worry, and anxiety have useful roles to play in our lives … [and] motivate people to engage in prudent, prophylactic behavior.” (Note from author:  Hmmm … I am not too sure about this one!)
  5. Instead of waiting for inspiration, just do it!  If, as Daniel Gilbert writes, happiness comes through “being effective — changing things, influencing things, making things happen,” and, as Csikszentmihalyi states, it occurs “when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile,” then we need to take action.

“Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It means you have decided to look beyond the imperfections.” –Unknown

This negative path to happiness suggests we abandon our pursuit, and instead practice mindfulness, embrace uncertainty and insecurity, drop our obsession with goals, and take inspired action. While as a human grappling with the same questions, I find a few aspects in this statement against the grain of my thinking, at the same time there are certain truths in Burkeman’s views that simply make sense.  Do you feel the same?

 Credit:  Sarah Ruddell 5 Ways to Think Differently About Happiness.

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