What they don’t tell you about your search for ‘happiness’
It’s the biggest Catch 22 in history…
...our constant search for ‘happiness’ is taking us further and further away from our goal of finding it, which makes us more and more unhappy as we continue to miss the mark.
Big time (she nods as she writes…)!
As a psychologist, I surprisingly only feel strongly about a small number of things…
…one of the bigger ones is our (‘society’s’) misguided search for continual happiness that is actually unobtainable, and as a result we are shamed (either by ourselves or by someone/something else) through all the messages telling us that we should be able to find it.
Now I must put a caveat on this blog post before we go on – there is nothing wrong with feeling ‘happy’ as an emotion, or wanting to feel it.
It’s an ideal emotion, it is healthy for us to feel, and research shows that for our general state of wellbeing, the optimal ratio of positive emotion to negative is 3:1.
(This is called the ‘Losada Ratio’ – you can Google-it if you’d like!)
So ‘happy’ is good. In fact, it’s great! And I want you to find true happiness (which is more like a deep sense of joy), but it’s when we expect to feel happy ALL the time that things can start to unravel.
Why is that, I hear you ask?
Well, it means this…
Though we may find happiness, we can’t sustain it for long as it’s a surface level emotion designed to come and go.
So when it fades, we go looking for the next ‘hit’ of it, and often go searching in places that paradoxically take us further away from it...
…and when we either don’t find it ‘there’, or it yet again goes as quickly as it came, we begin to feel frustrated, depressed, upset, or guilty or as though something is wrong with us, that we have failed in some way.
When we find ourselves engaging in this cycle, we have, in part, bought into the ‘happiness lie’…
…and that is the lie that we should feel happy all the time, and if we don’t, there must be something wrong with us.
This then begs the question, who’s spinning these ‘should-based’ lies?
Well, they could come from many places, but I believe much of it has to do with the incessant advertising that we are bombarded with at every turn.
Ooops, did I just say that?!?
Yep, I did. And pssst, I’ve got a little secret to let you in on…
…the promise of ‘happiness’ has been the aim of advertising the world over for quite some time now, regardless of the product being sold.
Have you noticed that many ads these days are less about “look at these amazing features and benefits” of a product, and more focused on how their product “will change your life and will make you happier than you’ve ever been if you buy it”?
Just take Toyota’s latest car slogan – ‘still feelin’ it’, followed by the ever-familiar signature silhouette jumping for joy in the air.
Or how about Telstra’s ‘that new phone feeling’ offer that they’ve packaged up (and Trademarked)!
Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
Now don’t get me wrong, I actually really like both those ad campaigns. I think they’re clever and catchy, but I see them for what they are – a play on emotion to get you to buy something regardless of whether or not you need it.
And I’m not buying it (pun intended!!)
Let’s face it, neither of those ads would be as beguiling if they spoke to the amazing things the car does, or how many features the phone has. That’s far too logical, and logic doesn’t birth the feelings of “I must have it NOW”, does it?!
No, both these ads (and many more) are incredibly powerful as they cause you to think how happy you’ll feel when you have their things.
But does the happiness of ‘new’ ever last?
Nope, it does not.
Nor should it, actually…
…because this type of happy is not rooted in anything other than desire (which has an insatiable appetite and needs to be fed constantly, am I right!?)!
And you know what?
There’s actually a neuroscientific basis to why emotion-eliciting ads are so engaging and make us want what they offer without really thinking whether or not we actually need it…
Information about features and benefits is processed in the logic and reasoning area of the brain. When you’re operating out of that space, you’re able to make a rational decision based on actual need (e.g. “my car is about to fall apart, so I need a new one”, or, “I smashed my old phone and it doesn’t work anymore, so I need a new one” – both very logical thought processes that have you searching for a product based more on need than want).
… when advertising can by-pass your logic and reasoning of need, and go for the emotional want, then you’re much more likely to say yes without thinking it through properly – and et voila, the sale is made!
In these situations, ‘happy’ is being sold as the end goal, and advertisers position their product as simply the means to help you get there. But given that the happy high their product will undoubtedly give you doesn’t last, you need more and more to keep your high going.
And they know that.
However, I digress slightly as this isn’t a blog post on the evils of advertising.
TBT, I don’t actually think advertising is evil at all, in fact, I think a lot of it is very clever and those who create the best ads have simply worked out how to connect to a part of our being that for many, is empty.
The thing with our make-up and design as humans though, is where something within us that is designed to be filled (or fulfilled) remains empty for long enough, we look to fill it with whatever looks good at the time....
… by doing whatever we think will make us happy in the moment.
It’s human nature to want to live a life with meaning and purpose. A life that is full, where we are filled.
But it's often that we have simply mistaken fulfilment (a deep state of contentment) with happiness (a fleeting surface level emotion).
Now, doing the things to fill our void with a quick-fix happy-high is not often a conscious thought process of ours – no, it sits much deeper than our thinking brain, it's more in our subconscious brain.
But we all do it nonetheless...
Have you ever bought something just to make yourself feel better?
Or perhaps your thing is romantic relationships where you find partner after partner to fill that void, and when each one stops ‘making you happy’, you move on?
Or maybe you fill the emptiness with work, work, work?
If you can answer yes to any of these on multiple occasions, then trust me, you’ve done ‘it’.
Please know that none of these things are necessarily 'bad' in and of themselves (and I have included them as I’ve done ALL these things and more in the past in order to fill that void which I later came to learn was not fillable by people or possessions…)
But whatever your ‘thing’ is (removing ‘good vs. bad’ from the situation), it’s not the real deal if it just makes you happy for a moment but you're expecting it to create a sense of meaning for you.
No, its counterfeit.
And what do we know about counterfeit…?
It looks like it’s the real deal, and often we can be fooled in the beginning, but the gig is usually up when we find we were sold a dud that doesn’t last… the colour fades, the seams come undone, and it doesn’t stand up to the test of time (just like that so called ‘Prada’ handbag I bought from a beach seller in Italy that time 😉)
No, true happiness has more to do with a sense of inner satisfaction than external consumption of ‘things’.
It is not a commodity, nor is it dependent on our surroundings.
And it’s DEFINITELY not an end goal - it is the side-effect of being focused on living a ‘fulfilled life’
So what are some ways you can find greater fulfilment in life?
I believe it’s not so much in what you do, but what you’re anchored in – your foundations. When you set sturdy and stable foundations in the areas that REALLY matter, what you do as a result of this simply flows naturally, along with a whole range of positive emotions.
See what I did there…?
If you change the focus to be on creating greater depth and meaning in your life, then happiness is a natural by-product that flows from there…
As taught in the Flourish Boldly program, setting your foundations in what REALLY matters includes a process of:
Understanding and living according what you truly believe in, stand for, and what gives your life meaning and purpose;
Adopting a mindset that has you embracing challenges, set-backs, etc. as you see these as incredible learning grounds to shape and grow you into the person you were created to be;
Knowing and using your unique strengths, the things that make you uniquely and wonderfully YOU, and that light you up from the inside out when you use them.
When you have these foundations in place, it helps you go deeper than surface level happiness, so you can find genuine, overflowing, joy.
The best part of this is that this type of joy doesn’t just have positive outcomes for you, it positively impacts many others around you too.
And when you find the joy that comes from having your foundations secured in the right areas, in time, you will find you begin to flourish in ways you never thought possible.
Actually, let’s talk about ‘flourishing’ for a moment…
…flourishing is different to happiness. It’s more a stable state of being than a fleeting surface-level emotion.
You can find you flourish under the most challenging and testing situations that at the time, most definitely DO NOT make you happy!
When you’re flourishing, you’re likely to experience a combination of positive emotions, engagement in the things that matter to you, meaningful connections with those you love, and a sense of fulfilment.
These extend across many areas relating to your emotional and mental wellbeing, including (but not limited to) areas such as relationships, career, and life in general.
That sounds pretty good, right?
I’m pleased to say it’s yours for the taking when you’re ready for it!
Is now that time for you?
Is now when you say NO and put a stop to the empty search for a ‘happy high’ (that actually leaves you feeling unfulfilled and unhappy), and say YES to creating a greater sense of joy and fulfilment?
If that’s sounding pretty good to you, I recommend you work to secure your foundations of flourishing in the following ways…
Work out what you truly value, what you stand for, and what matters the most to you, and get more of that in your life.
Adopt a growth mindset as you go through the above process – there is much to learn so being open to that is important, and as we all have experienced, the fastest way to learn is through mistakes. Expect them, embrace them, and move forward from them.
Explore what it is that makes you uniquely you – the strengths of your character that light you up when you engage them – and find ways to use these DAILY.
You might be able to take things from here with that info – which is great! – but if you’d like some help, you can join the many women currently engaging in the new and improved Flourish Boldly program.
This self-paced online program will guide you through everything you need to know (and do!) to escape the empty search for surface level happiness so you can find true joy, meaningful connection, and fulfilment in love, career and life.
You can find out more about the program and register for it here at a super special discounted price reserved especially for my readers and subscribers.
You can do the program, or you can not do it. It’s totally up to you. But regardless of your choice, may you find yourself flourishing boldly in 2019!