Why You Are Not Happy

06 October 2014

Why You Are Not Happy

First, let’s define terms. When we talk about being happy, we are not talking about a superficial sense of happiness, but rather a deep, joyful satisfaction, even though circumstances might not be the best at the moment.

So then, a question. Is happiness due to results or is happiness the raw material you work with? I recently saw a Facebook poster that read “Don’t mistake personality and attitude. Personality is what I was born with; my attitude is up to you.”

Whoever wrote this is: 1) in for a bad time in life, and 2) bound to feel powerless. Why?

If attitude (or happiness) is in the hands of others, or is only available when circumstances are good, our attitude and happiness are out of our control. We can never actually be happy except in dependence on others or circumstances. This will invariably lead to feeling powerless, and unhappy.

As well, when we say we’ll be happy when…(fill in the blank…you get a promotion, when the kids move out, if your team wins the game.) In each case, we find ourselves unhappy even though the goal is met. Why? Because our brains are wired for future. So when you get a promotion, the brain resets the bar for happiness. Now you need a bigger promotion. Your team won the game? Great. Now your brain wants a dynasty.

Set in these terms, happiness is always just out of reach.

So how to be happy? Be happy now. Train your brain to look for the positive, the outlying experiences that make life great, and make note of them. You might keep a journal, or post to social media, or talk to a partner each day about the three to five things you are thankful for each day; over time, your brain starts to scan the world for these things instead of the things that are going wrong.

For more on this, see Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage.