You aren’t going to believe this, but there is no direct link between your success and happiness. And there is plenty of science to prove it.
What I mean is that if you succeed in meeting personal goals you have set – fame, money, lots of toys, creative accomplishment, winning Olympic gold, landing that big job – it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will be happy.
This came a s a shock to me too. After all, haven’t we all been raised to believe that the formula for happiness is to plot our dreams, work hard to make them come true and then contentedly, blissfully, happily bask in the sunshine of our success? Most everyone abides by this prescription because on the surface it makes so much sense. What can be more fulfilling than making your personal dreams come true. Accomplishment is satisfying after all. The problem is satisfaction and happiness are not the same thing. They are entirely different animals even though in most of our minds they are inextricably linked. Good meals are satisfying too, but after awhile, no matter how fabulous they are, you get hungry again. If you need proof of this assertion, consider real life illustrations like Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jackson, Elvis, countless CEOs and herds of Wall Street money managers, all of whom have accomplished precisely what they set out to accomplish, but clearly aren’t, or weren’t, happy.
This isn’t to say that success and happiness are mutually exclusive, any more than happiness and a good meal are mutually exclusive. There are plenty of people who manage both. It just means that the two aren’t connected in the way we have traditionally thought they were. (See Step Five.)
But if the success-leads-to-happiness formula doesn’t work, then how can we manage to embrace the elusive contentment we all seek? All of the science seems to indicate the answer is simple: change your attitude. Too simple, right? But it turns out that study after study illustrates that the best path to a joyful existence is to stop focusing on all the negative aspects of our lives, and instead remind ourselves how lucky we are.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t come naturally to us because thinking positively rubs our DNA the wrong way. We are genetically predisposed to scan the horizon for trouble, and have evolved to be consumed by it when we find it. When you think about this it makes perfect sense. Any creature that blithely passes its days entirely unconcerned about what bad things might happen, is quickly rooted out of the gene pool by the same dangers it was ignoring. (The extinct Dodo, for example, had no fear of the humans who routinely killed it.) If you happen to be a Zebra on the savanna, or a small fish swimming among sharks, keeping a keen eye out for trouble is not only useful, it’s essential. On the other hand, as a daily psychological approach, finding misery behind every bush has a way of coloring the world a distasteful and depressing gray.
Of course life does sometimes stink. Horrible, annoying, denigrating and tragic events happen, and sometimes they happen a lot. And if we could predict the future and dodge them, any sensible person would. But since we can’t control the future the only alternative is to control how we play the cards fate deals us; find the positive side of even nasty things, learn from the experience and move on. What, when you think about it, is the alternative? It’s not as if Fate has a complaint department where someone checks the warranty on the life you’re unhappy with and fixes it, free. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)
What studies seem to be finding is that looking on the bright side works because it actually rearranges the pathways in your brain, which in turn change your attitude which alters behavior and improves the experience of being alive. This ability to consciously remap the brain is unique to us humans.
However … since changing our minds doesn’t come naturally to our kind, we at allthingshuman.net have assembled some concrete tips that will help. Try them. They will work. If they don’t, please contact our warranty department and file a grievance :-).
Here’s the first simple step…
If you missed Part One of this article, you can find it here.
If you’re interested in reading more of Chip’s books and other writing, visit www.chipwalter.com. Look for his feature story in National Geographic Magazine this January 2015, “The First Artists.”
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