“Happiness is not a goal. It is a by-product of a life well-lived.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Happiness largely depends upon ourselves and how we perceive the world around us. But most of us feel as though happiness is something out there that we need to really strive for and live in a state of never-ending unhappiness by chasing it. The more we chase the idea of happiness, the less happy we are likely to feel. We all expect success to result in happiness and in anticipation to achieve happiness, we constantly strive, compare, and seek for external validation which only adds to our unhappiness. When we postpone our happiness to something in future like getting a promotion or better marks or to next big thing, we experience discontentment and our wait often becomes endless as we never get to happiness and it seems to be forever eluding. Some people even indulge in unhappy thoughts and habits since they subconsciously believe that by taking the hard road and looking at things pessimistically, they can produce better results. Many times, we seem content to wallow in our own misery and indulge in unhappy thoughts and habits despite having it all.
Why are we addicted to unhappiness?
The more we strive for happiness, the more we get addicted to unhappiness. Our minds became increasingly skilled at predicting and avoiding danger in order ṭo survive. So our minds are still constantly on the lookout for problems. We tend to assess and judge almost everything we encounter: Is this good or bad? harmful or helpful? Not being able to measure up to ours or others’ expectations, we create negative, unhappy feelings and tend to put ourselves down. We spend lot of time worrying about things that, more often than not, never happen. Our basic human tendency is to belong to a group or a clan which makes us constantly worry about being rejected, Am I fitting in? or Am I doing the right thing? Am I as good as others? Because of today’s social media habits, we compare ourselves with a whole host of people who are more smarter, more powerful, or more successful or more admired than we are. We compare ourselves to an impossible standard and end up feeling not good enough, remain dissatisfied and unhappy.
There are several scientific studies indicating that many people have a feeling of being unhappy. According to David Sack, an expert in addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine, people who appear addicted to unhappiness tend ṭo find reasons to be miserable when life gets “too good”. He says they prefer to take the victim role and compete with others to see who has it the hardest. Here are some more signs according to him that say you are addicted ṭo unhappiness.
• Blaming others rather than taking the personal responsibility for your choices.
• Having difficulty in setting and achieving goals.
• Struggle to bounce back when things don’t go your way.
• Distract, escape or cope through other addictive or compulsive behaviors.
• Feel enslaved to your emotions and powerless to change.
• Avoid and procrastinate dealing with problems.
• Habit of judging yourself too harshly.
• Struggle to celebrate your goals.
• You have hard time putting things behind you.
• Feel dissatisfied even when life is going well.
• Complain about everything and worry about things that have not happened yet.
Most of the times, we compare, evaluate, criticise ourselves, focus on what we are lacking and get dissatisfied with what we have. Feelings of insecurity and lack of self-esteem also makes you feel undeserving of happiness. Growing up with excessive discipline, unrealistic expectations, or many negative experiences may fuel an unconscious desire to unhappiness. Negative emotions like anger, shame, guilt,and worry have an addictive quality that triggers the reward centres in brain. Negative emotions are fine in moderation, but toxic when indulged in regularly. You might find it hard to be happy if you are consumed by guilt or regret from your past decisions or experiences. By identifying the signs of unhappiness in your life, you can work towards improving your state of happiness.
What exactly is ‘Happiness’?
Happiness is a state characterised by contentment and general satisfaction with ones current situation. Usually it refers to a feeling that is a sense gladness or gratification. However, if we consider happiness as a feeling, its pursuit becomes unsatisfying and harder you pursue feelings of gratification, the more you are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. So, happiness is neither a fleeting, momentary experience nor a permanent personality trait. It is a life of meaning, contentment and purpose. If you live in the direction that you consider valuable and worthy , when you clarify what you stand for in life and act accordingly, you attain a sense of fulfilment that is both deeply satisfying and long lasting.
Why is it important to break your habit of unhappiness?
When you are addicted to unhappiness, you get disconnected from the positive emotions. This decreases your creative thinking and reasoning. Unhappiness leads to stress and self-deprecating thoughts. By breaking your habit of unhappiness, you can learn how to handle such negative feelings differently and in such a way that they bother you a whole lot less. Unhappiness in your personal or professional endeavours is the result of a lack of intrinsic motivation and failure to cope with stress. In a happy state of mind, creative ideas flow in and you are better at problem-solving and decision-making. Happy people are more productive and are less prone to work-related stress and increases your motivation. It reduces depression, and improves wellness and immune activity as you experience positive emotions.
How to break your habit of unhappiness
Intention is the driving force behind being happy. You can break your habit of unhappiness by making a conscious decision to be happy and taking responsibility for your own happiness by changing your behaviour and thoughts. Here are some simple ways to do so.
Set yourself free from unhelpful and unhappy habits
Some of your habits and behaviour pull you down into unhappiness. Like for instance, procrastinating can make you guilty. Being unorganised or over-scheduling can make you feel inadequate when you fail to accomplish your tasks. Too many digital distractions can make you feel anxious, and depressed. Complaining, controlling and blaming others leads to stress. Obsessing about every detail and wanting everything to be perfect can lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. When you’re trying to quit bad habits you might get critical with yourself which can lead to bad moods. Instead of self-criticism, reassure yourself by making positive changes. Identifying such stressful habits and behaviours and understanding their triggers can help you implement change in your habits.
Find your flow
Flow is about enjoying what you do and is known as the state of optimal performance and engagement. Focusing and engaging fully in whatever you’re doing instead of dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future by concentrating on here and now, you can experience happiness. Being completely absorbed with what you’re doing and paying attention to what is happening in the moment can help you achieve happiness, satisfaction, and productivity.
Challenge your unhappy thought patterns
Happiness is largely determined by your thoughts and that’s what has your attention the vast majority of the time. You cannot control your thoughts but you can decide what is helpful and choose not to give the unhelpful thoughts too much importance or attention. Recognise thoughts, images and memories for what they are and allow them to come and go as they please, without fighting them, running from them or giving them more attention than they deserve. Label your ‘unhelpful’ thought patterns and consider more helpful ways to look at the problem. Your ‘should’ thoughts are just an insistence that the world bends to your will. Ban such thoughts as they tend to make you unhappy and frustrated. You can do so by setting realistic expectations.
Indulge in physical well-being
The more physically active you get, the greater will be your feeling of excitement and enthusiasm. Research has proved that walking, exercise and meditation promotes good health and improves one’s mood and increases feelings of happiness. In order to break your habit if unhappiness, follow a healthy regime coupled with exercise. Practicing mindfulness in everything you do to raise your level of happiness.
Focus on your values
Clarifying and connecting with your values is an essential step for making your life meaningful. Your values are reflections of what is most important in your heart: what sort of person you want to be; what is significant and meaningful to you; and what you want to stand for in this life. Your values provide direction for your life, and motivate you to make important changes. Happy life involves experiencing the right emotions based on your values and beliefs. Living your values is one of the way to add more happiness to everything you do.
“Happiness is the state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.” – Ayn Rand
Gratitude can decrease depression symptoms as well as stress. When we focus on our appreciation and gratitude for the things and people in our lives, we activate the reward centre of brain and positive aspects of your life suddenly become more relevant to you. By recognising what you are grateful for, you acknowledge your needs and become aware of the needs of others too thereby helps you feel more connected to others. Start having a daily gratitude ritual -can be an act, can be maintaining a journal. Focus on big and small acts of gratitude and write down three to five things you’re grateful for every day.
Be mindful of your present moment
Developing present moment awareness helps you to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future with hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what you have. When we connect with the world directly through our five senses, rather than being caught up in our thoughts, we let our judgements, complaints, and criticisms come and go, and we fully engage in the present moment. When we are mindful of our own thoughts, we can see them for what they are, and let them go. When we are mindful of our feelings, we can make room for them and let them be. And when we are mindful of our here-and-now experience, we are deeply connected with our inner happy self.
Focus on what’s in your control.
You have little control over your thoughts, emotions, or over other people. You can only control your actions and how you direct your attention. You can break your habit of unhappiness by engaging fully in what you’re doing and taking action in line with your values, no matter how tiny that action is. Through effective action, guided and motivated by your values, you can improve your overall greater well-being and can focus on fulfilment and meaningful life.
We all have different ways of being happy and there isn’t an universal formula. Your life is the result of series of decisions you made that have caused you to arrive where you are. If who you are and what you have is what you want, do more of what you’ve been doing. But if you are not happy with who you are, what you have, and your current conditions, make happiness a conscious choice and work towards making some basic inner changes with the help of above strategies.
• Think about what unhelpful habits and behaviour of yours that you would want to change.
• Accept and take effective action to improve the problematic situations you encounter.
• Connect with your values; use them for guidance.
• Understand the source of your negative feelings.
• Proactively deal with your problems now rather than avoiding or procrastinating.
• Cultivate a sense of purpose. Keep setting meaningful goals and pursue them vigorously. At the same time, appreciate what you have in your life right now.
• The past doesn’t exist; it’s nothing more than memories in the present. And the future doesn’t exist; it’s nothing more than thoughts and images in the present. The only time you ever have is this moment. So make the most of it. Appreciate it in its fullness.
“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” – Mark Twain
When it comes to doing your work or getting what you want in life, having high standards can be a good thing. Being a perfectionist motivates you to go beyond your comfort zones and keeps you focused on your goals and leads to big rewards. Perfectionism is often considered as a positive trait when it comes to excelling academically and professionally. Because of this we tend to associate it with our self-worth and the drive to perfect everything starts from very young age to overcome fear of rejection or failure.
Perfectionism helps you do well in your career, academics, and to excel in your personal goals. And while it sounds positive on the surface, it has its downsides and can sometimes do more harm than good. Perfectionism can sometimes become too big a burden as it is always more demanding and time-consuming. It can turn you into an obsessive, restrictive, and stressed person for things you haven’t done perfectly and might cause you to place too much pressure on yourself. This can lead to feelings of unworthiness, depression, anger or frustration and can become detrimental to your well-being and success.
What is being a perfectionist?
Perfectionism is a personality trait whereby the individual sets high personal standards for their own behaviour and actions and can sometimes set the same expectations for others. Perfectionists tend to want or expect things to be flawless. Here are some signs that you are a perfectionist.
• You end up spending lot of your time just to perfect something,
• You have extremely high standards for yourself and others.
• You constantly wait for right moment to work on your goals so as to deliver best quality work.
• You are highly demanding, critical and exceptionally hard on yourself.
• You would like to do your work yourself rather than delegate.
• You think there is no room for mistakes and think you know what others should do.
• You feel anxious and stressed when something doesn’t conform to your approach or when things don’t go the way you want.
• You are highly organised and have a specific manner in which things should be done.
• You feel dissatisfied and feel like no matter what you do, it’s never good enough.
• You find faults in what you or others do.
• You avoid situations that could result in perceived failure.
Some of the above traits can be advantageous at times, but when you become overly rigid, it can have negative effects on your health, relationships and self-worth. Though many view perfectionism as a strength, it often gets in the way of achieving your goals. Perfectionists strive ṭo produce flawless work, and they also work more engaged and are motivated, always ready to push themselves to achieve that next big thing. However, they are also likely to be rigid, inflexible, and have a habit of getting overly critical with themselves. They hold excessively high standards to evaluate their and others’ behaviour, hold ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset and associate their self-worth to performing perfectly. They become over-stressed always pushing themselves to constantly do more and achieve more. While certain perfectionist tendencies might be beneficial, they can also clearly impair your productivity.
“Seeking perfection just ends up creating ridiculous amounts of stress and disappointment.” – Arielle Ford
The Downside of ‘Perfectionism’
According to research studies, perfectionism has an impact on a range of outcomes. According to them, individuals with higher levels of perfectionism experienced stress and emotional distress.
There are generally considered to be two significant dimensions of perfectionism. The primary being excellence-seeking perfectionism where there is excessive fixation on perfectionistic striving and refers to the individual themselves, whereby the person attempts or endeavours not to make mistakes and does their best to be as good as possible at whatever activity is in hand. People with this type of perfectionism not only evaluate their own performance but also hold high performance expectations for others in their lives.
The secondary being, failure-avoiding perfectionism which involves perfectionistic concern where they worry or feel anxious about making mistakes, they have doubts about their own actions, and feelings that there is a discrepancy between their own standards and their own performance or actions. They worry that others will negatively judge them for mistakes or failures and negatively react to situations that do not meet their exacting demands. The beneficial effects of perfectionism are stronger in excellence-seeking perfectionists where as the detrimental effects of perfectionism were stronger in failure-avoiding perfectionists. The research further shows there is no link between perfectionism and performance.
However, perfectionists have incredible work ethic and have what it takes to perform as they approach challenges with courage and motivation. But if left unchecked, perfectionism can sabotage your success. Here are some downsides to perfectionism.
• Perfectionists have a specific manner in which things should be done. Being detail oriented and getting obsessed with every single thing weighs them down. With the need to do things perfectly, they tend to put off the tasks for later time, some get in analysis paralysis and some even give up. Also due to extreme high standards, the targets stress them out and makes them procrastinate out of fear that they can’t meet the standards they have set for themselves.
• Trying to perfect every small thing ultimately leads to emotional exhaustion and wastage of time as they spend lot of time just to get simple things done to achieve that final perfect output. With the obsession ṭo achieve high standard, they try and try and strive to the point when it becomes detrimental to their health and relationships. They aim for high standards at the expense of their well-being.
• Perfectionists mostly compete against themselves and feel the need to be in control. Their perfectionist tendencies are not restricted to only their work, but also in managing other personal activities like cleaning, cooking, and parenting. Because they let their achievements define who they are, they often experience constant worry, unhappiness and feel nothing is ever good enough.
• Whenever something is perceived to have gone wrong, the perfectionists become extremely hard on themselves and are flooded with negativity thereby failing to learn from it or see it as the lesson that it is. They get depressed and feel everything must be their fault if they don’t achieve that perfect or desired standard.
• Having very harsh expectations of themselves, perfectionists are rarely satisfied with what they are doing. The always look for mistakes and issues to correct. This makes them often experience recurring feelings of dissatisfaction and regret over seemingly small things. They have difficulty in letting go of mistakes and imperfections and often mull over outcomes that don’t turn out as expected.
“The key to happiness is letting go of that idea of perfection.”– Debra Messing
How to balance your perfectionist tendencies?
Most part of your perfectionism might be a result of your passion about improving and giving your best at everything you do. If you are educated in an environment where success is extolled and mediocrity rarely regarded, you tend to achieve perfect standards in every area of your life making you an overachiever. Perfectionism is a healthy trait. To persevere in your goal-striving, you need to be positively motivated by high standards that can take you forward. But the problem comes when you get into a perfectionist mind trap and play host to a harsh inner-critic. You reach a point where your life seems to be programmed from a place of stress and fear rather than positivity or creativity. But with the right strategies, you can learn to recognise when you are bordering into the extreme perfectionist tendencies and moderate your behavior to overcone them. Here are some do’s and dont’s ṭo overcome extreme perfectionist tendencies.
1.Stop working when you feel you’re getting diminishing returns. Focusing on every detail and unimportant information drains you from getting more done. It is important ṭo ask yourself whether the details you have been obsessed about are essential to your end goal. If not, it is time to set them aside. Trying to push every little thing, especially the ones that do not affect what you are trying to achieve decreases your overall output. Check in with yourself when you are striving so hard for an external goal that it’s getting you down, and reassess your short and long term priorities before continuing on.
2.Avoid failure-avoiding perfectionism. Putting lot of emphasis on external achievements gets you wrongly associated with your self-worth and your perfection gets steered by a fear of failure. This leads to ‘all-or-nothing’ approach where you either do everything well or you don’t do it at all. Such mindset is self-defeating as no one achieves success without having failed in some form or the other. Everything happens in progression and not in all-or-nothing manner. Instead of seeing mistakes as failures, choose to see them as part of the learning process. Instead of trying to avoid mistakes and failure, reframe them as normal and as an essential part of your growth.
3.Stop self-criticism. The need for perfection makes you feel compelled to keep moving towards your goals with high standards and it’s easy to beat yourself up when things don’t go the way you want. Such situations can make your inner-critic quite harsh and strong. Check out the negative things you are saying to yourself in such situations. Ask yourself whether the need for perfection is self-driven or is it driven by your need for others to approve you. By understanding your motives, you can switch your negative self-talk to positive. Instead of blaming yourself, love and appreciate yourself.
4.Adjust your expectations. Have realistic expectations. It is impossible to do everything perfectly. Try to focus on the task at hand rather than running on what the end result will be. High standards and unrealistic expectations of yourself and others constantly make you disappointed and frustrated. Realise that you cannot control every situation and force others to meet your unreasonable expectations. Balance your pursuit of perfecting in all things with excelling in fewer and more important things. Choose tasks that are worth the effort and put your perfectionist traits to work on them.
5.Stop focusing on your achievements. Perfectionists tend to associate their self-worth and success with their achievements. When you focus on the outcome, you work towards pleasing others. Let go of comparisons and the need to prove yourself. Instead focus on the process and on your strengths and values. You are more than your goals and achievements. Treat your goals as guides and not as absolutes. Whether you have accomplished a particular task yet is not as important as the fact that you are progressing towards it.
6.Delegate and let go. As a perfectionist, it is tough to work with people as you may feel that it is easier and faster for you to do everything yourself as opposed to relying on others. You also may think having to rely on others is to deal with the errors and their imperfections. To achieve high standards, it is not possible to do everything alone. It is important that you find the right people and delegate your work by sharing your expectations with them. Allow yourself to let go of your expectations of them. Not everyone one will be able to measure up to your expectations.
7.Finally, Embrace mediocrity. The fear of being mediocre holds us back in many of our pursuits. But the key is to embrace certain imperfections. You dont have to be perfect to set out to accomplish your goals. Instead sometimes just getting started without worrying that you are good enough is also important. You can trust some of your imperfections and mediocrity without treating it as indicative of your abilities as a whole.
“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain
Are you a perfectionist? Does the pursuit of high standards weigh you down? Do you often seek to achieve a perfect standard so that others will see you as a success? Do you need to perfect every single thing you do at the expense of your health and relationships? Do you become extremely hard on yourself whenever something goes wrong? Do you constantly wait for the right moment to work on your goals? Do you feel anxious and stressed when things don’t go the way you want? Do you get stuck in ‘all-or-nothing’thinking? If your answer to the above is a ‘yes’, then it is time to balance your perfectionist tendencies. Use the above strategies to embrace your true self with some imperfections. Sometimes it is important that you should lay aside your perfectionism and let go of it to develop a healthy and a happier approach.
“We need to focus on the present moment, the only one we can really live in, to be truly effective.”
Ability to manage our attention is an important determinant of our success. But we are continuously bombarded by external events in our daily life and experience various distractions and information overload all the time. Most of us never go beyond a narrow, personalised sense of self that is conditioned by past and an anticipated future which is far from present. As a result, our ability to pay attention at will comes under control by external factors and by our past conditioning. We constantly attach thoughts and feelings to external factors, events from past and imaginary future. Because of this, the world around and people in particular come to be perceived as threatening. We begin to judge and the need to compete and dominate arises. Our perceptions and interpretations change and we take actions based on anger, despair, fear and frustration. The actions thus taken generate an automated cycle of negative behaviour where we tend to react to everything automatically without any present moment awareness and attention.
Performing right actions comes down to making right choices and this requires the ability to pay attention to the present moment. Giving full attention to whatever the moment present is possible only through complete acceptance, because you cannot give your full attention to something at the same time resist it.
Importance of acceptance
Accepting yourself unconditionally fosters your efforts to attain your highest potential and encourages you to live up to the highest in you. The non-evaluative observation of ‘what is’ without distortion through mindful acceptance and attention allows you to break the automatic response to the external events by disrupting the unconscious progression of thoughts and emotions. You can bring peace by connecting to your true self. This helps in promoting physical and emotional well-being by removing stress and inner conflict.
Acceptance means positive action
To some people, acceptance may have negative connotations, implying defeat, giving up, lethargy and so on. They might think by always accepting the way things are, they are not going to make any efforts to improve them. True acceptance does not mean to passively put up with whatever situation you find yourself in and to do nothing about it. Nor does it mean to cease initiating positive action. Accepting the present moment unconditionally is to let go inner resistance to ‘what is’. Inner resistance is to say ‘no’ to ‘what is’ through mental judgment and emotional negativity. Acceptance of what is does not mean that you cannot take action and change the situation. You don’t need to accept undesirable life situation, but just narrow your attention to the present moment without mentally labelling it in any way. Action with no resistance, no judgment, and no emotional negativity results in positive action and is far more effective than negative action, which arises out of anger, despair or frustration.
If you find your life situation unsatisfactory or even intolerable, it is only through acceptance that you can break the unconscious resistance pattern that perpetuates the situation. Acceptance is the starting point. Unless there is complete acceptance, we will never develop the willingness to change ourselves. This is true for every experience, addiction and weakness. Accepting your true self and of ‘what is’, you can begin to take action, initiate change or achieve goals.
Practice accepting ‘what is’
Focusing on the present moment through conscious acceptance allows you to improve your attention by breaking the automatic feeling-thought-action cycle. Acceptance allows you to take wiser decisions and enables you to cultivate a more balanced relationships. Here is how you can practice acceptance.
• Do not be concerned with the fruit of your action. Give attention to the ‘doing’ than the result that you want to achieve and in time you will be freed from what now seems impossible.
• Accumulation of past in your psyche reinforces false sense of ‘self’ by denying the present moment. You don’t need the past moment, refer to it only when it is relevant to present.
• Don’t be a ‘habitual waiter’, waiting to achieve your goals — with every kind of waiting, you reduce the present moment to a means to an end leading to non fulfilment and dissatisfaction. Strive to achieve your goals but don’t use them to substitute for the feeling of being, whole and complete.
• Watch your thoughts as well as your reactions in various situations. Notice how often your attention is in the past or future. Make it your practice to withdraw attention from past and future when they are not needed.
• Practice meditation to rediscover your unconditional self. Notice your breathing patterns and observe your thoughts and emotions. Accepting your situation through being mindful helps you gain focus and clarity about what triggers certain feelings and emotions.
• Practice focusing your attention in the present moment while eating, drinking, working and while communicating. This reduces stress and anxiety, as well as increases your emotional intelligence. Giving your complete attention to what you do results in empowered action.
• Avoid labelling every perception and experience. When you mentally name or label a situation in some way as undesirable or bad, you tend to personalise the resentment which in turn brings a reactive “me.” Break this habit by practicing “not naming.” Don’t name an experience as “bad” and instead bring an inner “yes” to it.
• When you are unhappy, stay totally with what is. Do not unconsciously designate your deficient sense of self through being ‘right’ and making something ‘wrong’. This leads to reactivity and creates conflict between your external circumstances at that moment. Instead of complaining about the circumstances, accept. This will allow you to make peace and you will be able to turn to present.
• Patiently work with your difficulties. Acceptance builds trust into the current situation and you can focus on underlying opportunities.
Notice how total are you in what you do or in your daily activities.
Watch how it feels like when you don’t want to be where you are — the traffic, work place, the people you are with, dealing with the countless things that make up your daily life — accept the ‘isness’ of the moments in your life. Whatever your life situation is,
practice completely accepting it as it is — where you are, who you are with, or what you are doing. This improves your full attention to the moment and your doing becomes more effective, fulfilling and joyful.
“Pause and remember— When you fight reality, you will lose every time. Once you accept the situation for what it truly is, not what you want it to be, you are then free to move forward.” — Jenni Young