Sometimes, on this journey through life, we find ourselves getting stuck in a rut. Our go-to techniques for problem solving and creating happiness in our lives just don’t seem to work to break through a specific roadblock or navigate out of a tricky situation.
And it’s not actually that the technique isn’t working, it’s that we’ve used it so much that our minds can and do apply it unconsciously. It’s actually too familiar to be powerful.
It’s like when you eat a delicious dessert. The first couple bites are by far the best, bite 10 is nice but nothing special. And if it’s a really big dessert, by bite 75 you don’t get any pleasure from it anymore.
So if you habitually list all the things you’re grateful for whenever you’re unhappy, it’ll work amazingly well the first time, the second…and so on. But if you keep repeating your list, it’ll lose its effectiveness as it becomes rote.
Just like we have to take some time away from eating to appreciate the dessert again, we need to take a break from our pet techniques occasionally in order to rejuvenate them.
So in order to shake things up, it’s often good to try something radically different.
At the very least, this will let us come back to our favorite techniques later with fresh energy.
So I’ve compiled a list of 6 surprising sources of happiness to do just that. They can serve as hats you try on here and there or when you need a boost or, if you like them, permanent fixtures in your lifestyle.
Let’s take a look:
6. Stop Self-Analyzing
There is clearly a time and place for self analysis and self reflection. After all, it’s the only real way to figure out where we are and how to get to where we want, but too much of it is a bad thing that actually prevents us from experiencing happiness.
Constant self-surveillance, asking ourselves “Am I happy now?” Thinking, “oh, I’m feeling x right now, this must mean…” and other thoughts that creep into our minds are self-interrupting acts that preventing us from fully engaging in what’s in front of us.
If we stop to analyze every unexpected flicker of emotion that courses through us, we will remain at the mercy of an external environment that is going to make us feel things whether we want it to or not.
Stay engaged in the moment – you can analyse things later when you’ve purposely made time to do so.
5. Lower Your Expectations
We live in a society of inflated expectations. It all starts with that phrase “you can be anything you want to be,” which is reinforced in various ways throughout our childhoods.
The fact is, even though everyone CAN achieve greatness in some field, we expect way too much from the world.
Most things we try simply do not work. And really that’s for the best because most of us are really bad at things when we’re just starting out.
But when they don’t, we tend to get upset or to give up and say “well THAT doesn’t work” instead of persisting.
And persisting is easy when your morale hasn’t been battered. In fact, we’re able to eliminate most of our negative emotions by lowering our expectations.
This is not at all the same as pessimism. It’s basic laws of probability.
Most single things we try won’t work, but most collections of things we try will. Occasionally you’ll hit a home run on your first try. And if you’ve lowered your expectations, striking out will stop bothering you.
Eben Pagan calls it “short term pessimism, long term optimism”. I call it a great way to increase our happiness.
4. Get Rid Of (Or At Least Turn Off) Your Phone
This wonderful piece of modern technology has changed forever the way we interact with the world – and each other. And not always for the better.
The level of attachment most people have for their phones should be an immediate red flag that Something Is Wrong Here.
The big problem with our phones is that they make unimportant things urgent, interrupting the things that are truly important and ruining our ability focus. They are the ultimate tools for self interruption and distraction.
Not only that, but they put our entire contact lists in control of our time. When we can be reached at any moment and we’re socially obligated to respond, we lose a huge amount of our autonomy.
One thing repeatedly cited as necessary for success in any field is having large blocks of uninterrupted time (1-2 hours).
Our phones prevent this in so many ways it’s frankly appalling. Brendan goes into a lot of detail on this one.
Another way to see the benefit of getting rid of your phone is to consider how it would force you to change your life: More person-to-person interaction, not being at the beck and call of anyone who has demands on your time, looking at the world around us instead of mediating it through a screen.
Try it. After you get over the separation anxiety (another red flag?) you’ll be glad you did.
3. Throw Out Your Goals
“But everyone knows goals are The Key to happiness and fulfillment!”
Okay, I’ll admit they’re useful, but as a part of our tool kits, not as a dogmatic way of approaching the world.
The problem with goals is simple: it’s imposing our preconceptions of what should take place onto situations largely outside of our control.
Goals are great ways to ground and orient ourselves, to give ourselves momentum and direction, but they are a terrible way of handling any individual scenario.
If you have a goal that’s really important to you, you aren’t going to simply forget it. Let yourself respond to the situation you find yourself in now and you’ll experience a lot less friction, frustration, and a lot more happiness.
2. Get Rid Of Your “Stuff”
Stuff is another way we get distracted from what’s really important to us. Everything you own requires you to invest resources into it: the purchase, storage (house space), maintenance (time, energy, money), and a vague mental inventory.
Resources you expend on your “stuff” can’t be used elsewhere, like in learning a new skill or developing a relationship. In business this is called “opportunity cost”.
This is rather insidious, because most of us only consider the monetary cost of acquiring an item, not the monumentally larger cost of actually owning it.
So how much stuff should you have? The minimalist mindset works great here: “only as much as necessary,” NOT, “as much as possible.”
I remember a great quote by a chemotherapy patient: “perhaps we only have as much as we can love”. Indeed.
1. Set Yourself An Income LIMIT
I could name the people I personally know with no money worries on one hand. To say that it’s common is to vastly understate its commonness.
One counter-intuitive way to combat this is to set an upper limit on how much money you allow yourself to make – not spend.
This seems crazy at first, but we set limits on other “good” things in our own self-interest, even if we’re not consciously aware of it: food, time spent socializing, pairs of shoes (ok, not everyone) – so why not money too?
Where should you set it? It should be low enough to make you at least a bit uncomfortable at first. We’re deeply ingrained in the “as much as possible” way of living instead of “only what’s necessary” (which doesn’t mean living day-to-day or month-to-month, I’d call peace of mind in case of emergency “necessary”).
I’d consider using the median income in your area as a rough starting point and descending a bit from there (for those of us in developed countries with reasonable income equality).
Setting an income limit on your lifestyle forces you to immediately examine what you truly value doing and having.
It’s strange but true, but if you’re not currently living in line with those things you value, money is unlikely to change that. That’s like saying “I’ll start eating healthy and exercising when I’m thin.” Uh…what?
If you force yourself to think about living on less, hopefully you’ll realize that you’ll basically have no choice but to fill the resulting “space” with the things that make us truly happy anyway: Spending time with family and friends, hobbies, being creative, play, contributing to society etc.
And the other, extremely powerful benefit of doing this is that you can actually free yourself from your financial worries.
If you can’t define what “too much” is, you probably don’t know what “enough” is either. And the fastest way to do that is define it for yourself and check! Nothing is set in stone.
That does it for the strange sources of happiness! Hopefully they sparked some useful ideas that you can begin to apply in your life. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective to create massive change.
Can you think of any others? If so, leave it in the comments below.
Further Reading: The Happiness Model: Why Finding Happiness is NOT the Way
Further Reading: How to Be Happy: The Six Pillars of Happiness
Further Reading: Being Present: How One Moment Can Transform Your Life