So I wrote Happiness: 101 a while back. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about CBT and positive psychology as well as gained some new perspectives of my own. There are some things I’m going to add upon, and some new suggestions and ideas I’ll give you. Due to how long this will be, I’m going to break the whole article down into parts. Feel free to just skim to the parts you feel would work best; I understand this is a long article.
The Vices of Attachment
Last time I told you about how interpersonal attachment can be really good or really bad. This time I’m going to discuss material attachment. We all want a nicer car, bigger house, and more things. That’s fine, but don’t make it a primary goal in your life to acquire everything and don’t make your happiness depend on that. Because once they are gone, that happiness will cease to come. Materialism is like an addiction, there will never be enough so you will never feel truly happy. You can buy the newest phone, but in a few months there will be a better one and you’ll have to buy that one. You can’t buy happiness.
This sort of ties in to your attachment to status. Nobody is better or worse than anyone else; everyone just has taken different paths. A doctor may be qualified to help others medically and may have training that you don’t have, but that doesn’t make him a better person. He just chose a path and it led him to where he is now. A hobo that has no status may have actually gotten to his position due to giving away too much, being too trusting, or just having been screwed over by the V.A. office. He doesn’t necessarily use the money for drugs or alcohol. Also don’t make assumptions, it won’t make you happier, but it will help your relationships and is just a general rule.
Just as you don’t make assumptions, don’t get attached to expectations. Expectations cause us to think a situation will be better or worse than what will actually happen in reality. When things don’t meet our expectations, we get depressed OR we see that we worried about something that would have never happened. Expecting the worst is just as bad as expecting too much. You will cause yourself to be in dismay over something that is just as unrealistic.
The best way to prevent the pain from attachments is to learn to live without them. If you become heavily attached to relationships, find out how to be happy alone. If you become heavily attached to materialistic goods, abstain from acquiring more until you find happiness without it. If you are attached to the status you’ve earned, try to dissociate your identity with that status- be around people who are of different status. Don’t make expectations or assumptions. Here is the disclaimer: security. If you have lost your job, home, or wife, it’s perfectly normal to feel depressed. However, there was a point in which you didn’t have a job, house of your own, or wife before, correct? That’s your hope. You’ve survived without that stuff before, you can do it again.
Why So Serious? Life is a Joke!
Tibetan monks make some of the most intricate pieces of sand art in the world. Do you know what they do when they are finished? Take a picture or sell the art? Neither. They brush it all away and never see it again. Why? To teach themselves about how not to get caught up in life- in the end, it withers away like sand in the wind.
Life is the single most important gift bestowed upon us. We realize this and end up fretting about every detail to make it perfect. But life is never about the finished product it’s not about the stories that are told about us after our funeral- for nobody’s life is ever completely known. Life is solely about the journey. It is about placing every grain of sand where we can in the small amount of time we have. But every grain of sand will eventually go away, and that’s ok. We can appreciate the art we’ve created. We should not care what this art looks like, because it’s not important. We live for about 80 years, and then we die.
Videogames have actually given me some insight here. People will play games for about 300 hours, and then they will beat them and never play them again. We get caught up in the story, the gameplay, and the characters. Once the story has been told, we leave that world, on to another one and play another game. Get caught up in the characters and stories of this life, learn a thing or two, or teach others. Play the game of life for 80 years, realize it’s not permanent, and enjoy the ride. It’s just a game.
Artists spend countless hours, months, or even years on their paintings, and then they just sell it to a stranger- someone who will never appreciate it as much as the original. Why? Because, they have not grown an attachment to their work, but also because they are sharing some aspect of themselves with the world. Live your life the best you can and spread the knowledge and love you carry with you. You may not be permanent but the gifts you give to humanity are.
“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so, “
A situation is just a situation, but you think about how it affects you and look for the reasons it hurts you. Try to look at every situation in a positive light. Be grateful for every situation you encounter.
Sure you may look at the loss of a job as a “bad” situation- you don’t have a steady supply of income, you won’t be able to support your family. But did you really like that job or did you just stay there because it gave you some money and some job security? Didn’t you really want to be a writer or a journalist or a videogame designer but you just got complacent with the job you had? Even if this isn’t the case, you could still get a better job. This job loss can be the push you need to be motivated to do what you want.
Even the decisions we make are never good or bad. There are only possibilities and situations that help develop our character. I’ll take on substance abuse for example. You have the person who doesn’t abuse substances. On the surface you may see this as a good choice: they will never even the chance to face addiction. However, maybe that person would never face addiction anyway, but are missing out because of fear and having a drink wouldn’t have as adverse effect as they’d think. The ‘good’ choice allows fear to muster and forsakes the virtue of courage.
Let’s look at the other side: the person that does do some drugs. We would assume that they are making a bad decision (assumptions are not good, remember): They’ll become complacent with life; they’ll only seek to indulge, etc. However, maybe that person is doing it for spiritual reasons- many people do go to drugs seeking alternate consciousness and hoping for a spiritual awakening. But even if they’re not- even if the person is doing it to feel good, to indulge, that doesn’t make the decision bad. This may cause them to face addiction and some of the worse times of their life, but they will eventually realize that it’s causing pain, and try to leave this life of addiction. Think about people you’ve heard of or met that have gone to AA. They have become some of the most resilient people I personally have met. But they wouldn’t have become so resilient if not for the rough patch of their drug addiction. I picked one of the more serious decisions in life, but the same idea applies to most, if not, all decisions.
Everything can go wrong every day. You wake up to a burning apartment, a call from a loved one telling you that someone dear to you passed away, or even a call from your boss saying that you’ve been fired. But that doesn’t happen. Every day goes by fairly normally without any huge events going on. Think about how long you’ve lived in your house and it didn’t burn down- isn’t that amazing?! I’ve been robbed ONCE in the 20 years I’ve been alive, and maybe it will happen one more time- but even then there was a source of growth (they stole most of my electronics which was necessary for me to become more self-aware).
Be grateful for every moment that your house is normal, for every ‘bad’ decision you’ve made that led to your growth and to every day in general. People who do so tend to leave happier lives!
You Hold the Power
No situation or person has the power to make you unhappy; you give that power to them. I don’t care if you are a determinist- act like free will exists, and you will be happier. Even if you believe in a divine plan, fate, destiny, astrology, or anything along those lines, you can’t give those things power over your happiness.
Say you believe in a divine plan. You had an amazing girlfriend and somehow the relationship ended. Well, it was part of God’s plan. But then see how it will escalate to something negative: “God hates me, he doesn’t want me to be happy, and why does he keep on setting me up with these horrible people.” Now let’s say that this is the case, God really does hate you. Besides the fact that a benevolent being hating on you makes no sense, you can never prove that. So why let that be the belief that you stick to? It could just as easily be for the reason that you need to mature by having these bad relationships in order for a relationship to work with your soulmate. You will never know the truth why these things happen, but doesn’t having the second belief lead you to a happier state of being? See how fate is compatible with self-empowerment? This is pretty much the same as the last section: see things on the positive side.
Now to get to what this section was meant for: people. We give people power all the time: “Susan made me mad” “Jack hurt my feelings” “Michael hates me so I won’t get promoted”. Nobody can make you anything; you are responsible for your own actions and feelings. People don’t make you sad, your thoughts about what they said makes you sad. Let’s say that Susan or Jack did say something horrible: “You are horrible at your job”. The only way that affects you is if you believe it. Say you do believe it, that you are bad at your job. Do something about it, become a harder worker. If you don’t believe it, then don’t let others words hurt you. People have different perspectives and are allowed to have opinions. If they always run into you in the restroom, but never see you while you are working hard, then that could lead them to the conclusion. If you really want them to know that you are really working (such as a boss or something), make it a point to pass them while you are working. Don’t let negative comments be louder than the good ones. Chances are for every “you are horrible at your job” you have plenty of people patting you on the back for your good work. Some people you can’t please.
Now let’s deal with the whole “somebody is preventing me from doing something” issue. As I said before, people are entitled to their own opinions. Even if Michael does hate you for being so happy all the time and this causes him to never give you a promotion, it’s your fault for not doing anything. There are many things you could do in this situation: Talk to him about it “I feel that you don’t like me and are preventing me from being promoted because of it.” He may start to question why he even dislikes you; he may tell you what you did to make him upset, and you could even restart the relationship. You could talk to his superiors and get an intermediary to talk to him. And you could even just go for another job.
There are always possibilities. As an exercise, look at situations in your past and their outcomes. Notice what you did and what you could have done differently to make the situation better, or worse. For example: In the time I wrote this, I could have wasted my time just watching tv (which would have been subjectively worse) or I could have went outside for a walk and enjoyed some fresh air (which could be considered better). But I’m proud of the decision I made to take this time and write all of this down, so I don’t feel like time was wasted. See how this is a great way to notice possibilities and notice how my thoughts on the situation make it seem like a ‘good’ one?
Pessimism, Optimism, & Expectations
I’ve been considered an overly optimistic person, but I’m not, I’m hopeful. Although that may seem like the same thing it’s not. Optimism is what I detailed through the last two articles- looking on the bright side. Hope, however, is the expectation that life will get better. But what if it doesn’t, what if I always have this minimum wage job that I have now and am just stuck here? Pessimism is just that: the expectation that things will never change or get worse. Most people can see how pessimism can be bad: you plan for the worse and get depressed on things that may never happen. How can hope be bad? Well, you expect or wait for the best, and it never comes or is a worse outcome than expected.
Expectations are always bad, because they nearly never come true. Honestly think about the last time you thought a situation was going to come out amazingly and turned out horrible or a time when you thought something was going to go badly but ended up making you feel absolutely joyful. None of those thoughts are real. You are getting happy/sad over your imagination! Think about it: You are on a date with someone and you are worrying about “oh, I’m going to say something stupid” when 9 times out of 10, you don’t- and when you do, it’s BECAUSE you were overanalyzing the situation. That entire time your date never even had that thought cross their mind and wasn’t worried about it. They were just interested in a nice evening or maybe they were worried about themselves saying something stupid. Either way neither ends up focused on reality, but just focused on the expectation that things will go wrong. Or conversely, we could expect the night to end up great- way more than should “oh this date is going well, maybe we’ll take things up to the apartment afterwards” then being let down when it doesn’t happen. Expectations are bad (as well as assumptions).
Now how is optimism different from hope? As I said, hope is the expectation that things will go well. Optimism, in this context, means to look at things from a bright side. Hope lies in the future and optimism the present. Although pessimism can also lie in the present- “she asked for the bill already, she can’t stand my attention.” The optimist: “She asked for the bill already, she seems like a busy person and she gave what little time she has to me, that’s wonderful! “
Now say you’ve been getting strong social cues that she does not like how the date is going and it’s not you overanalyzing. Realists see the world as it is. Now it is hard for me to visualize this because of perspective biases- I tend to live in the dreamy, hopeful world. But a realist can still be an optimist! A realist may notice the negative cues she is lending out and say “well this date is over” but the optimistic part of the realist can say “Now I can learn from this experience and know who I’m not compatible with”. Think of Benjamin Franklin’s finding “1000 ways not to make a light bulb”.
Thinking about Thinking…or not
Thinking is literally all we have to change in order to be happy. Changing your perspective to always think positively is one of the ways I’ve already shown you. Conformation bias/circular thinking is another problem. You think “I’m gonna make a mistake” and you make a mistake a distant time later and say “see, I knew I was right”- Conformation bias. Circular thinking: you are thinking “I am worthless” and you start acting like others think you are worthless which makes you feel worthless and confirms your original thought. Or “I can’t rely on so and so” but every time they offer help, you turn them down then you feel unsupported and that reinforces your original thought. This is known as circular thinking, but more specifically the Thoughts, Behavior, and Feelings Triangle- don’t overthink the fact that it’s a circle and a triangle at the same time. You can actually stop circular thinking by changing the behavior, thoughts or feelings, the rest will then fall into place. If you allow your partner to give you support, you will feel supported and start thinking that they support you. Or you could change your thoughts to “I have worth” and start doing behaviors like volunteering which make you feel worth it. Or you could fake the emotion of happiness until it becomes real and starts affecting your thoughts. That last one is the hardest one but changing any part of the triangle will work.
I can understand all of these thought- changing things can be difficult. “The world is a horrible place, it’s so hard to see good anywhere”. And I have two options for you: a stepping stone that can make those easier or something to completely abandon those and try something different: mindfulness meditation and meditation of non-thought.
Mindfulness meditation is what it sounds like, being mindful of what is going on. Most people have thoughts and aren’t even aware of them. Take time each day to notice what exactly is going on in your head. Why am I feeling so depressed today?! Then you look at your thoughts and realize that you are thinking about the fight you had last night with your significant other. And you can move on to consciously change it to a positive thought.
Meditation of non-thought is just as ambivalent as the previous one- not at all. You literally try to cease thinking about the past or future, anger or happiness. You just kind of watch. It’s not as easy as it sounds- I’ve been practicing for a few months and am lucky if I can have 15 minutes of complete silence. But once you do it becomes peaceful. I’ve recently learned of a technique to use along with mindlessness meditation that helps it work. Most begging guides suggest you focus on your breath. But if you also focus on another perception such as hearing, seeing something, or touch that works better. If you focus on two senses at once, the brain goes quiet for as long as you can do it. And even if thoughts come back, don’t yell at yourself. Just notice that it happened and go back to non-thought. It’s actually terribly peaceful!
Work on yourself
We all have flaws, fears, and issues in general. Although looking hard at yourself can cause you to see your own demons, it can cause you to become a better and happier individual. Say you are shy. You can start by trying to make new friends, eventually you will and you will become less shy for it. Maybe you will understand why you are shy, and fix some flaws in you internal scripts. You’ll feel happy because you accomplished a difficult goal, and because, well, you made friends!
You want to find the perfect person or to get that golden job, right? You can fight your way to their heart or to the top. Or you can modify yourself and let them come to you. Think about it: why do you fall for or want to hire that person? Because of what they have. They have the set of personality traits that attracts you to them or makes you want to hire them. Become that person that you want to date or hire. Just as a disclaimer though, I’m not saying change who you are to get what you want. But change what you don’t like about yourself, and embrace the things you cannot or do not want to change.
If you become comfortable in your own skin and know what you want in the world, it will come to you. I’ll give you an example: the romantics. Nowadays, they are far in between and few in numbers. But if they confidently yell what they want, they will end up with what they want. They may get turned down by those people that aren’t romantics, but that kind of relationship isn’t what they want anyway. If you are honestly yourself, you can attract those who honestly like you, which is good.
It’s just the same for careers. Say some guy wants to be a psychologist of sorts. So he starts reading a bunch of psychology articles, books, and whatnot. He gains a lot of knowledge, then goes to college and easily passes all of his classes because most of the knowledge he already knows and obtains his teaching license.
These are just a few of the general happiness theories I know of:
The Psychological Well-Being Approach- to be happy you need:
0 Good Relationships
0 Autonomy (being independent)
0 Environmental Mastery (being able to choose and create environments that fit your needs and wants)
0 Purpose in Life
0 Personal Growth
The PERMA approach:
0 Positive Emotion (more good than bad)
0 Good Relationships
Six Determinants of Emotional Style:
0 Social Intuition
0 Sensitivity to Context
Happiness= S+C+V where:
0 “S” is you biological set point (your average level of happiness)
0 “C” is the conditions of your life (Noise, Commuting, Lack of control, Shame, and Relationships)
0 “V” is the voluntary activities you do (like writing, playing an instrument, volunteer work, or watching tv)
Although “S” cannot be altered, “C” and “V” can always be changed. You may be living far from work and in a noisy neighborhood, but you can move closer to work in a less noisy one. Or you may watch tv and not feel happy because it doesn’t give meaning to your life. Or you could do something your passionate about, like start a blog on various theories on TV shows (cracked.com).
Hopefully you can take something from this article. You definitely have learned something, and it makes me happier to share my knowledge with you! All of these techniques, I have applied to my own life, and I am more happy since I first began studying this. It’s not an overnight thing; you won’t read this and suddenly become happy. It will take work to apply all of these techniques to your own life, but one day you will think about your past and how you used to feel. You will notice how much happier you are compared to your past.
I know this took a long time to read, and I’m glad you did spend your time reading this. I hope this truly did benefit you. Have a good day, and stay happy 🙂 !