Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Enough With Focusing On Happiness!

Recently there has been a plethora of articles and research on happiness. The "how" of happiness, the mindset of happiness, even the foods of happiness. It is seemingly everywhere. Yet we are no happier. The rates of depression, especially since the Second World War are staggering and even living in one of the safest and most developed nations in the world, we don't even rank in the top 10 as being the happiest. With all the focus on happiness, you'd think we could dent the statistics a little. The challenge is that we are focusing on the wrong thing.

Of course happiness is important, it's even in our bill of rights. Yet, like trying to grasp a wave, when you grab for happiness, it falls apart. Happiness is subjective, minute to minute. If you ask me right now if I am happy, I'll say yes because my computer is working, I have a full stomach and I know there is good coffee down the street. However, in a nanosecond my phone could ring bringing me bad news about someone I love and instantly my happiness is gone. So how can we spend so much time focusing on happiness when it disappears so quickly? All of the quick fixes in the magazines and on TV won't elevate our level of real happiness because it focuses on something very ethereal and fleeting. Rather our focus should be on living a full life and happiness will be one of the by-products.

The main paradox in the happiness phenomena is the focus on self. Almost all of the research and practice is how to elevate your happiness. This intense navel gazing only tends to make individuals more suspect of their own happiness and creates concomitant highs and lows in self-esteem and positive affect as they study their own mood swings. Good research has indicated that by doing something for someone else we raise the level of our happiness significantly and for a longer period of time. Wow, something as simple as a charitable act can change our well being. It's better than a tax write-off. And think of how the focus has shifted. By not focusing on ourselves, but focusing on helping others, we achieve what all the self-focus will not.

So too we can find happiness in what we do. Not by focusing on how I feel each and every day while doing my tasks, but focusing rather on doing the tasks and becoming absorbed in them. Engagement increases levels of happiness, well being and self-efficacy. Find something in your work that really engages you and let yourself get lost in it. You will be amazed at the difference.

Finally a focus on happiness in the moment necessarily moves us away from any suffering or struggle. Yet most of us have had moments in our lives when we've struggled to achieve something and suffered through the painstaking process. When we finally finish we feel better than we have in ages and that memory stays with us longer than almost any other.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be happy. However we need to stop focusing on it because we will never succeed in securing it directly. Unleashing our talents and abilities, especially for others and doing so in a way where we struggle to succeed is the surest way to deep and long-lasting happiness; it's just not popular to say so. We want the quick way to happiness, but that is also the quickest way to lose it. Focus on someone else and bring all your gifts and talents to bear. Happiness will come.

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