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the truth about HAPPINESS

Nikki Yazxhi

Just because we’re not happy every minute doesn’t mean we’re not actually happy. We believe that we should feel happy all the time and that feeling uncomfortable emotions is abnormal and says something about our own faultiness, but humans are simply not designed for 24-hour happiness.

Our collective obsession with being happy is not only counter-productive because it stresses us out and makes us less happy but also self-destructive. Happiness becomes more of an ambition than a state of being — a requirement as opposed to an indulgence.

All of this, Dr Burnett {author of The Happy Brain} says, puts us at risk of becoming less well-rounded emotional beings. “The brain is capable of so many emotions, and to focus on one at the exclusion of others can lead to emotional incompetence,” he warns. “A full range of emotional experience is necessary for well-being.” Well-being and coping. If we don’t recognise (and value) sadness, we’ll be ill-equipped when bad things happen. And, of course, bad things happen. Or, as Dr Burnett says, “The world is not a soft, playful bubble.”

Even so, he’s not suggesting that we abandon the idea of being happy altogether; we just need to recalibrate our approach.

“Our culture is motivated to give us inaccurate maps to happiness in the pursuit of profit: ‘If you buy this car, you’ll be happy.’ The research is pretty clear that there are few consumer goods that result in a lasting increment in happiness.’ Same goes for ‘success’ in general, he adds, where many people believe they can’t be happy without a certain income, bank balance, corner office or position. “Clinicians like me often see people who have achieved all of these goals, and happiness is most definitely not in the benefits package.’

Overall, we’re just wasting too much of our time and energy worrying about how to be happier. “Virtually everything we do, every decision we make, is designed at some level to manipulate our mood in the future,” Dr Paterson says. “But still, most of us remain unsatisfied with our level of happiness.” Part of the problem, he says, is that our society pushes nonsensical, even destructive, ideas in the guise of trying to help us. “Enthusiasts overstate the case (‘we now know how to be happy; you can be happy all the time’), and others attempt to monetize the topic (‘buy my workshop!’). All of this tends not to be useful and typically leads in the wrong direction or makes people feel worse.”

Dr Randy Paterson, a registered psychologist in Vancouver and author of Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use suggests trying these strategies: consciously reminding himself of positives, having a few things planned in the future to look forward to without entirely living for them, practising gratitude, making decisions based on knowledge of how things have worked in the past rather than on lazy impulses like switching on a television.

“More importantly, I take to heart the idea that happiness is often an outcome of something else, so I need to focus on the ‘something else,’” says Dr Paterson. “What do I want to contribute? How can I spend my time in a way that helps achieve that? If I focus not on happiness but on living my life in a way that is meaningful to me, I don’t have to worry much about happiness — it arrives more or less on its own.”

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{Pic: Oracle Fox}


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