A blog about my thoughts on the journey of personal mastery towards discovering greater happiness, balance and fulfillment. These thoughts are based on my learnings from reading and research, coaching people from diverse backgrounds, and my personal experiences.
Happiness has been a conscious pursuit of mine lately. Driven by a quest for deeper meaning and in search of a purposeful life, I left the seductive life of a corporate executive some years ago. Since then, examining, exploring, and experimenting with happiness has been kind of a hobby. I have also developed a happiness test (please click here to check your happiness score) and have pored over the positive shifts my clients- and I personally- have experienced on the happiness scale over time.
Born to be happy (or unhappy)
I have come to believe that some people are simply born with a happiness gene. They lead a happier life irrespective of their circumstances or their station in life. They are happy whether they are materially successful or not; marry a loving partner or not; win or lose; are healthy or ailing and so forth.
However, they are a minority. For the rest of us, we instinctively drift towards unhappy feelings, as if we carry a dominant unhappiness gene that’s continually ready to assert itself. The consequent unhappiness ranges from subconscious undercurrents of incompleteness, constant desire for more and lack of joy to substantive sadness, anxiety and moments of depression. However, any of us can discover real happiness – just that for the majority of us, this requires making a conscious effort.
From some of my work in this area, I could not help observe the key symptoms of this unhappiness gene. Developing an understanding of these has been very helpful in working through my personal moments of confusion, anxiety and unhappiness as well as those of my clients.
MOODS is an acronym I have coined to capture the five key traits of this so-called unhappiness gene. It stands for Me, Overwhelmed, Obsessive, DIY and Set in stone. Let me elaborate what they mean and some quick thoughts on what we can do neutralize them.
‘Me’ represents our self-centered instincts to take things personally. We are quick to judge our successes and failures, progress and setbacks, compliments and critique, and take them personally. Someone behaving rudely with us is seen as a reflection of ‘our’ inadequacy and every untoward incident raises the question of ‘why is it happening to me’.
Happiness lies in appreciating that ups and downs are an integral part of human life and that it is futile to assume we would experience only pleasant situations. Developing an understanding of laws of nature and recognizing that life is unfolding as it need to and that every change of circumstances in our life is not a reflection of us.
Also, nothing is happening uniquely to us – everyone has their share of challenges; instead, it’s how we react to them that makes the real difference. The person behaving rudely is not being that way only with us – that’s perhaps how the person is.
The next symptom is our tendency to get totally consumed by unpleasant events. Feeling anxious, we are often unable to isolate such events from the rest of our daily life; instead, we let them grip our psyche – notwithstanding what we are engaged in. Troubling issues at work overflow into our family time; undercurrents of anxiety around kids’ progress at school occupies our mind even while watching the news; restlessness for a rapid recovery makes every illness unbearable.
Dealing with this overwhelm requires conscious efforts with trying to live in the present – in being able to compartmentalize different aspects of our life and not getting overly identified with any; realizing that thoughts have the habit of amplifying the regrets of the past and fears of the future; becoming open to accepting the reality as is, letting go of the attachment to specific outcomes and not pondering over how it could have (or should have) been.
Then, many of us have this strong need to be perfect. It’s an obsession that moulds our outlook at work, with the family, on the playground, towards diet and exercise, and even in our spiritual pursuits. This in turn directs our mind to invariably look out for problems- about what’s not going well and the unfinished agenda- and that means there’s always a sense of lack and an inability to enjoy the present.
We live with the syndrome that, “If I’m 98% perfect on anything I do, it’s the 2% I messed up I’ll remember when I’m through.”
What’s most helpful here is figuring out our top priorities in life
and directing adequate attention towards them, rather than trying to be perfect with every little component of our existence. Additionally, building a deeper sense of gratitude – reflecting on, and feeling more grateful for, all the things that are going well for us is very supportive. These approaches provide a balanced perspective towards life, shift our focus from perfectionism to
wholesomeness and aid our experiencing greater inner happiness.
Another expression of the unhappiness gene is the preference to deal with the problems on our own – a kind of a DIY approach. When faced with a setback, many of us habitually retreat into a shell to work through our problems. We favor this over sharing our problems with others and seeking possible solutions. While being thoughtful and reflective is hugely beneficial, not seeking external support can mean brooding over problems and negative emotions for way longer.
We need to recognize that sharing problems with others lightens our load. It also creates possibilities for new solutions to emerge. Besides, it deepens our relationship with people we open up to. However, it demands a greater willingness to be vulnerable. Given also this gene’s need to be perfect, this vulnerability takes effort to develop. Trying it with people you trust- those who are not likely to be judgmental about your situation- offers a suitable starting point.
Set in stone
The final point of the unhappiness gene relates to our conditioned belief that the impact of any negative events would last forever; that there's a certain permanency to the unfavorable aspects of our life. It borders on the premise that any single adverse event or situation has the power to undo all our good deeds. Fearful thoughts about health, anxiety about a family matter, pre-occupation with the fallout of a poor decision at work are all examples of this. The thought that the impact of any of these would be set in stone, like a lifelong scar, is paralyzing.
Clearly, this thought process overlooks the reality that nothing is permanent. Favorable events and the unfavorable ones come and go in our life with the regularity of four seasons. Life is a journey of experiences and every setback is indeed a new experience for greater learning and growth. In moments of consciousness, we also realize that it’s our inner insecurities that make any unpleasant situations seem unusually threatening. As we create positive beliefs around our setbacks, we feel more empowered.
Living with the perspective of Rudyard Kipling’s words, “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same”, we can experience greater equanimity.
Your personal take
What’s your view on the existence of an unhappiness gene? Which of these symptoms do you experience during moments of anxiety and sadness? How have you been able to neutralize them?
Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!!!