Almost every action we take in life is aimed at achieving or maintaining “happiness” – that elusive state where we feel contentment, satisfaction and bliss. Happiness can be a bit hard to define. Yet unhappiness, on the other hand is easy to define, you know it when you see it and you definitely know it when it’s taken hold of you.
Happiness has much less to do with life circumstances than you might think. A study at the University of Illinois found that people who earn the most (more than $10 million annually) are only a smidge happier than the average Joe’s who work for them.
Life circumstances have little to do with happiness because much of the concept of happiness is under your control – the product of your habits and your outlook on life. Psychologists from UCLA in a study found that happiness is 50% genetics and life circumstance – the rest is up to you.
Unhappiness can catch you by surprise. So much of your happiness is determined by your habits (in thought and behaviour) that you have to monitor them closely to make sure that bad habits don’t drag you down into the abyss.
Some habits lead to unhappiness more than others do – these traps are easily avoided once you become self-aware. Writing a journal is often a great way to express yourself and a great reflective tool.
Here are 9 Traps to fall into that may limit your happiness and outcome on life.
Holding Your Feelings In
One of the great misconceptions concerning emotional intelligence (EQ) is that it is about repressing our feelings and holding onto them. While it is true there are feelings that high EQ individuals do not allow to erupt on impulse, that does not mean those feelings are not expressed. Emotional intelligence means honouring your feelings and allowing yourself to experience what comes from embracing them for what they are. Only then can you express them in a manner that helps rather than hinders your ability to reach your goals. This is the foundation for the concept of resilience and the ability to recover and rebound from ‘life’s obstacles’.
Numbing Yourself With Technology
Everyone deserves the opportunity to binge watch a TV show now and then or to switch on your e-reader and get lost in a book. I gave my TV to a gentleman I play golf with and prefer paper pages rather than electronic ones. The real question is how much time do you spend plugged in and whether it makes you feel good or simply makes you numb. When your escape becomes a constant source of distraction, it is a sure sign that you a probably falling into a trap of too much of a good thing. Get reconnected with nature and be present.
Spending Too Much Effort Acquiring Things
One of my favourite topics. I recently down sized my life to accommodate a mobile lifestyle. Half on my limited amount of clothes when to charity and anything I hadn’t used within the last 6 months … aside from my snowboard, when in the bin by choice and necessity. It has been documented that people living in extreme poverty experience a significant increase in happiness when their financial circumstances improve, but this drops off quickly above and annual income of $40 000. There’s an ocean of research that shows that material things DO NOT make you happy. When you make a habit of chasing things, you are likely to become unhappy because, beyond the disappointment you experience one you get them, you discover that you’ve gained them at the expense of the real things that can make you happy, such as living with purpose, family and hobbies.
Waiting For The Future
Telling yourself, ‘I’ll be happy when ….’ Is one of the easiest unhappy habits to fall into. How you end the statement doesn’t really matter (it may be a job promotion, pay rise, holiday or relationship) because it puts too much emphasis on circumstance and expectations. Improved circumstances and expectation of others or situations don’t lead to happiness. Don’t spend your time waiting for something that’s proven to have no effect on your mood. Instead focus on being happy right now, in this present moment, because there’s no point dwelling on past experiences and certainly no guarantee of the future. Time, this moment, is exactly all we actually have.
Change is an inevitable part of life, and those who fight it do so because they are struggling to remain in control. The problem with this approach is that fight change actually limits you control over the situation by putting up a barrier between yourself and the actions you need to take to improve the situation. The idea here is to prepare for change. This is not a guessing game where you test your accuracy in anticipation of what comes next, but rather it means thinking through the consequences of potential change so that you are not caught off guard if they surface. The first step is to admit that even the most stable and trusted facets of your life are not completely under your control. People change, businesses go through ebbs and flows, and things simply do not stay the same for long. When you allow yourself to anticipate change – and understand your options if changes and challenges occur – you prevent yourself from getting bogged down by strong emotions like shock, surprise, fear and disappointment when changes actually occur. While you are still likely to experience these negative emotions, your acceptance that change is an inevitable part of life enables you to focus and think rationally, which is critical to making the most out of an unlikely, unwanted or otherwise unforeseen situation.
Nothing fuels unhappiness quite like this one! The problem with a pessimistic attitude, beyond it being hard on your mood, is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and self-sabotage: if you expect bad things, you’re more likely to get bad things. Pessimistic thoughts are hard to shake off until you recognise how illogical and catastrophic they actually are. Force yourself to look at the facts, and you’ll often see that things are not nearly as bad as they seem. Getting perspective and not buying into other people’s ‘horror stories’ on situations is often the solution.
Trying To Keep Up With The Joneses
Jealously and envy are incompatible with happiness, so if you’re constantly comparing yourself with others, it’s time to stop! This is rat on a wheel mentality. Who do you think the Joneses are trying to keep up with? … and so on …
Because unhappy people are pessimists and feel a lack of control over their lives, they tend to sit back and wait for life to happen for them while life is happening around them. Instead of setting goals, learning and improving themselves, they just keep plodding along, and then they wonder why things never change. Often there is a victim mentality associated with this and inability to see the reality of their situation. Don’t let this be you. Read, explore, challenge yourself.
When you feel unhappy, it’s tempting to avoid other people. This is a huge mistake. Socialising, even when you don’t enjoy it is great for your mood. Exercise plays an important role in happiness and fits well into this category. We all have those days when we just want to pull the covers over our heads and refuse to talk to anybody, but understand that moment this becomes a tendency, it destroys your mood. The days when you want to hide, are the days when you need to step up and step out of that comfort zone.
So bringing it all together. When was the last time you experienced true happiness. What did you have and what did you not have? Me? That’s easy, last weekend: sleeping under the stars in a rainforest, no internet signal, no Joneses, living in the moment with the bare essentials.
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