Know the 4 myths for finding the good life?

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I don’t know what I WANT to do.” “I don’t know what I CAN do.” Stop it. This way of thinking about your reinvention is flawed. It’s based on myths about how to find the good life. They lead you in the wrong direction. They stop you in doubt and insecurity.

It’s time to kill them.

 

Myth #1 Aim to be Happy

Happiness is linked to everything from better relationships and health to creativity and a good nights sleep.

So it’s easy to fantasize an ideal future of happiness, when you’re coping with the stresses of daily life.

You imagine, fun, freedom, vacations and doing what you like when you like. So it’s natural for people to look for more happiness in their next endeavours.

Stop dreaming. The ‘’perfect’’ venture / job / role that will make you happier, doesn’t exist.

It’s like a mirage glimmering on the horizon. It promises relief, the end of the line, the ultimate destination. The more you focus on it and strive towards it, the further it goes.

There are some hard truths about happiness. They undermine the multi-million dollar happiness industry, that sells books, pills and counselling. Face them and you’ll stop looking for happiness.

  • Aiming for Happiness kills it

There is a popular belief that the more you value happiness the happier you’ll be. But setting happiness as a goal stops it.

Higher standards and expectations are set that are rarely met. So even when things go well there is a disappointment.

  • Thinking about Happiness can make you sad

Determining your happiness means you search for evidence of it. To do that you also look for evidence of the opposite – sadness. It has a name – ironic processes. So as we become aware of our happiness we also become aware of our unhappiness. That’s the irony.

  • Happiness is genetic

Over 50% of our happiness is genetic anyway. We have little control over it. Some people are just happier than others.

  • Happiness Tricks Don’t Work

There is lots of advice on how to increase happiness, from diet and relationships to fitness and lifestyle changes. But at best, it only increases good feelings by about 15-20%.

  • Happiness becomes a Habit

Friends of ours had a beach house behind sand dunes.  So it became an evening ritual to walk over the sand dunes to delight in the view. When they finally bought a house on the beachfront, they complained that they lost the appreciation of the view. They rarely stopped to look.

Like the view, we get used to happiness. Over time, it becomes the new normal. It doesn’t have the same impact on our emotional state.

We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. “’Content homoerectus’’ got eaten before passing on their genes. Tim Minchin

So don’t aim to be happy. Over time it leads to loss of wellbeing, life satisfaction and higher levels of depression.

Instead focus on curiosity, creativity, service or doing something you value. Happiness might be the byproduct you find along the way.

It’s why we commit to bringing up children, spending time with family or working on an important but difficult task.

You may not be laughing out loud or getting hits of pleasure a lot of the time.

It can be uncomfortable, frustrating or stressful on a day to day basis.

But it gives you something more than happiness – a sense of satisfaction and contentment.

Not a bad measure to test your future options.

If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under a radiator. ~ W. Béran Wolfe

 

Myth #2 – Find your passion

You hear it all the time… “Find Your Passion”, ”Do what you love”.

That’s fine if you have a burning desire to achieve something that you have held strongly over time. But most people don’t.

So let go searching for your passion. It’s the most liberating thing you can do.

Mostly your past achievements had nothing to do with a grand passion. They came from your dogged dedication and step by step micro goals. It’s the same now.

Passions are a poor guide to anything that needs dedication over time.

  • Passions keep changing.

Although right now, you don’t think they will change.  That’s the thing about passions – they feel like they will last forever. But they don’t. Just reflect on the last 10 years of your life. They will change just as much in the future and you have little way of knowing what they will be.

  • Passions won’t sustain you.

Passions are the emotional response to ideas. Like sugar they give you an energy boost – a high. It’s addictive. So when the emotion wanes, passion ‘junkies’ leap from one passionate idea to the next. They become overstimulated, unfocused and achieve nothing.

If you don’t have a passion – stop feeling confused, inadequate or bland. You don’t need one.

 

Myth #3 – Follow your Dreams

Sometimes dreaming about your future reinvention and what you want to do next, is the kick you need to make a change. Dreams expand your sense of possibilities. They make you feel good and help you achieve amazing things. They can inspire you when you are feeling stuck, blocked or unsure.

But they can undermine you too.

  • Dreams won’t sustain you.

Like passions, dreams won’t sustain you. When the going gets tough, you rely on blind faith, “it will work out in the end’’. Then when dreams fade, you replace it with another one.

  • Dreams can create a sense of failure.

You can forget dreams are fantasies and feel a failure when they don’t happen. Maybe it’s because of the “live your dreams” mantra that we live with nowadays.

Passions and dreams are like looking at the peak when you are climbing a mountain. It inspires and motivates you.

But it’s every step from where you are to that peak that determines if you make it.

You might have a plan but the weather, your fitness, a short-cut, other climbers – will change it.

Seasoned climbers set checkpoints with deadlines along the way. Deadlines for food, water, fitness, daylight and weather. At each point, they know if they should keep going or return to base.

Your passions and dreams need reality checkpoints with deadlines.

It’s like conquering the mountain. You need to be realistic about the ultimate goal, adapt when necessary and know when to abort.

Remember, the best of both worlds for achievement is both inspiration and perspiration.

 

Myth #4 – Do what you know

A lot of people do something in their next stage of life not much different to what they did before.

You see it all the time. CEO’s join Boards. Professionals become Consultants. Executives move from corporates to not-for-profits. They apply the same expertise in a slightly different context.

It might seem the simplest and easiest path to take. A ‘’natural’’, ‘’logical’’ next step. But it limits you. It’s the straightjacket of your past. It’s not reinvention, it’s transition.

Think more widely about your experiences and skills and increase your options.

That’s not to say you don’t have natural preferences and attributes. Or you shouldn’t apply your expertise.

It’s about not looking at the future through the prism of your past.

It’s about being open to learning and doing something completely different.

Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett became an athletic director at the University of Michigan. He saw it as a good way to adapt his skills in an unusual career move. “As a CEO, I’ve been trained in understanding at a really deep level what motivates people, what makes them proud to serve … to compete at the highest level.

Remember, your skills are rarely natural gifts. You’ve developed them over the years through education and necessity. They’ve now part of your ‘style’ – and seem natural and effortless.

The opposite is true too. Your undeveloped skills are not natural limitations. They are the things you didn’t need to develop or avoided.

It’s like right or left handedness. You default to one hand and it becomes stronger, while you avoid using the other and it becomes weaker.

So kill the myths.

Instead of aiming for happiness, searching for your passion, following a dream or logical next steps, take a step back.

Work out what is important to you. What or who inspires you. What makes you angry. What gives you hope.

Then you’ll find ways to do something about it. You’ll use your skills, find hidden ones, master new ones and on the way, you might have moments of happiness and passion.

 


Further Reading

  1. Kashdan, T., Biswar-Diener, R., (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side. NY. Avery.
  2. Mauss, I. B., Tamir M., Anderson, C.L., & Savino, N.S., (2011) ‘Can seeking happiness make people unhappy?  Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness.’ Emotion. Aug;11(4):807-15. doi: 10.1037/a0022010.
  3. Wegner, D., (1994) ‘Ironic Processes of Mental Control’. Psychological Review, Vol. 101, No. 1, 34-52.
  4. Seligman, M., (2004) ‘The new era of positive psychology.’ TED February.
  5. Minchin, T., (2013) Address to University of Western Australia. Youtube 7 October.
  6. Grewal, D., (2014). ‘A Happy Life May Not Be a Meaningful Life’. Scientific American. 18 February.
  7. Wolfe, B., (1932). How to be Happy Though Human. Reprinted Digital (2006) UK, Routledge.
  8. Quoidback, J., Gilbert, D.T., Wilson T.D., (2013). ‘The End of History Illusion’. Science 4 January: Vol. 339 no. 6115 pp 96-98.
  9. Wilson, T.D., Gilbert D.T., (2005). ‘Affective Forecasting – Knowing What to Want.’ Current Directions in Psychological Science June. Vol. 14, no. 3, pp 131 – 134.

 

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