The Happiness Trap
Updated: Jul 26
This is something I talk about A LOT. It often presents itself in the form of "I'll be happy when..." I'll be happy when I get a new car I'll be happy when this week is over I'll be happy when I move I'll be happy when I find a partner I'll be happy when I pay off my debt I'll be happy WHEN! Think back to the last time you said this, were you happy? Sure, maybe for a few days, even a week, or a few weeks. Did that happiness last forever? Or did you find a new fixation, a new thing that you couldn't be "happy" without?
I want to start by saying that goal setting is a GREAT way to ensure you are progressing and adding meaning to your life. When you tick off a goal you actually send a little shot of dopamine through your brain (the neurochemical that is associated with that feeling of "winning", among other great feelings). This feeling can make us feel happy, but only for a short amount of time.
Big goals are great, but our happiness shouldn't depend on them. This is why it is important to set small achievable goals you can continuously tick off your list while you are working on the bigger goals. When I say small, I mean think really small, like getting to the gym each day (that is a win in our busy lives), cleaning out that laundry basket that ALWAYS seems to be full or cleaning your car, writing a new blog. Anything that you know you keep thinking "I need to do that" - can be a daily goal.
So while setting yourself up to win every single day will add to your overall happiness, your happiness should not be solely dictated by these things.
WHAT WE FOCUS ON BECOMES OUR REALITY
Let me paint a little image.
Have you ever been so distracted you have almost put yourself in danger? For example, you are rushing along trying to respond to a work email and look up just in time to realise you are about to run straight into a pole, or worse, a moving car.
Life is the same.
But instead of failure to see potential danger, we can be so distracted that we fail to see the good that already exists around us.
Here is another example.
Have you ever looked at the grass (or dirt or sand) and at first seen nothing, but then you notice a bit of movement (or perhaps someone points it out), you shift your focus on seeking movement and all of a sudden you notice there are hundreds of tiny ants or crabs - and that becomes all you can see?
So what would happen if we shifted our focus to seek the good in each day?
I spoke about this recently on my instagram story. I'd be a liar if I was to sit here and say that the world is an incredible place where nothing bad happens and it is all in our heads. Terrible things happen around the world (and to us personally) every single day. On top of that, we don't always have control over these things.
What we do have control over is creating and focusing on the good that already exists in our lives.
As human we are wired to look for the negative as a survival mechanism. It would fare us well to be on high alert while out hunting or gathering, because we weren't as high up on the food chain as we are now.
This doesn't mean that we cannot change. We can focus on the good but it does take some work.
HAPPINESS LIVES IN THE PRESENT
Depression and anxiety are extremely complex mental health issues and cannot be simply summarised in a neat little statement, however, I like to use this little phrase when explaining happiness and being present.
Depression lives in the past, Anxiety lives in the future, Happiness lives in the present.
(Of course we can look at the past and be happy, we can look forward to the future etc. This is merely an expression of how important it really is to be present).
Being present. Sounds easy, but we actually don't realise how much our mind truly wanders until we try to be present. This can be particularly hard when we are battling with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Meditation is a term that gets thrown around a fair bit. It is not purely sitting on a mat humming, which is generally what pops into our heads when we hear the phrase.
I wrote a whole article on this, so I'm not going to go too much into meditation (but it is easier than you think, you may already be doing it and you simply need to make a little mindset tweak). You can read that article here: https://www.jessnugent.com/blog/meditation
Meditation is literally anything that draws your mind into the present and keeps it there for a period of time.Things like dedicating an hour to do something you love (ie painting, training in the gym etc) where your are focused not he shapes you are creating, how your body feels and how it is moving etc.
Think about a walk you do often. It might be between your home and the local cafe, maybe it is the route you walk with your dog, perhaps it is from the bus stop to your office. You do this walk often, but have you ever really slowed down and taken notice of your surroundings?
Next time you do it, slow down. Think about the way your feet hit the floor, think about what is around you. If there are plants, look at them and appreciate their beauty, if you are surrounded by buildings, admire the architecture, the work that went into building them, be thankful to live in a place that allows us to walk freely without worry and earn a great income.
Think about your breathing, control your breaths and notice how the air feels when it feels your lungs. Be grateful for that too.
Think about the weather, can you feel the sun as it hits your back, can you feel the sprinkle of rain on your skin? Guess what, we are also lucky to be able to feel this.
It is funny what can happen when we simply slow down, shift our mindset and look at the world with a grateful heart.
When we can successfully do this, what happens? Bliss.
COMPARISON IS THE SILENT KILLER OF HAPPINESS
This is a big one. Particularly in the age of social media.
We pick up our phone sporadically and habitually and go for a scroll throughout the day. What do we see? New jobs, new houses, new babies, new cars, new Gucci belts, new holiday snaps.
Amazing how everyone looks so happy, when in fact we know that so many people people aren't.
That is because social media is not real life. It is a highlight reel of our best moments. It is the tip of the ice berg.
So stop comparing your real life behind-the-scenes to everyone else's best moments.
Real life is ugly. I'm currently sitting on my couch writing this article. I'm in an old crew neck jumper that has a bit of toothpaste on it, I've paired this my comfiest, yet ugliest, track pants and some odd socks. I'm not wearing any makeup and I am experiencing a huge break out. I have not styled my hair. I just don't feel as compelled to grab a photo for the gram right now as I do when I am out in a beautiful place with my best friends.
Last week I had an emotional breakdown because I felt lost & unfulfilled. That was ugly too. I certainly didn't want to grab a photo for the gram then either.
The truth is, we are all a little lost. I don't think anyone truly knows exactly what they are doing and where they are going. We like to hope. Some people have winged it to the point that we made it somewhere great - but I'm sure they could not have truly predicted exactly what that journey was going to look like.
Life isn't linear.
We all face challenges and setbacks. Yes, some of us experience more than others, but focusing on that won't make our journey any easier. Have you ever heard someone compare their trajectory to someone else's? "Well, they had a huge financial investor to start them off so they are luckier than me!" Instead of focusing on our "bad luck" we should be actively working on creating good opportunities so we can get "lucky" too. Comparing our journey to someone else's only slows us down.
Becoming fixated on other people's perceived happiness hinders our own happiness in the same way.
It is basically impossible to capture true happiness in an image, so we quantify it by what is tangible. It is so easy to look at someone else's life and think "wow they must be so happy, they have it all", when in reality they may be completely miserable. Everyone on this planet is fighting an invisible battle that we know nothing about. Never presume.
People can appear rich but be struggling with debt. People can appear popular but be struggling with loneliness. People can be "beautiful" but feel ugly.
This bring me to my next point. Looks.
Something so superficial, but it is something that can weigh so heavily on us. So I will leave you with my key learns on this point:
Hating my legs for not being long never made them grow longer, it just made me miserable. Hating your eyes for being "boring: won't make them change colour tomorrow. Hating your body type won't make you wake up tomorrow with your dream body.
There are some things we can't change and there are some things we can. Just because you don't have a perfectly proportioned body, are you really going to let that take the happiness out of the rest of your days? Just because your body doesn't look a certain way, it doesn't mean you are any less capable, it doesn't mean you can't do amazing things.
I know people who were born without the use of their legs and are absolutely crushing athletic goals and exploring the abilities that their body has. They are making the most of what they have been blessed with and they are creating the absolute best version of themselves.
While there are things we can't control in life (not just with our looks) it is our DUTY to create our best selves. It is our DUTY to explore our own possibilities with US in mind (not anyone else). Spending time fixated on someone else's life literally just halts the possibility that exists for us to create our own phenomenal life.
We have that ability.
But it is, most importantly, our DUTY to appreciate the good in everyday. To be grateful for the things we have, that we once wished for. For the things we were born with, that other people in the world are wishing for.
For everything bad that happens in the world, something good happens. These things just don't make the news because humans are drawn to the negative.
Follow pages on instagram like @tanksgoodnews and @goodnewsmovement - look for the good, focus on the good and create the good in your life every single day.
Negativity is inevitable, but focusing on the good will make inevitable life challenges easier to deal with. A challenge can be a challenge without being the end of the world.
Happiness exists within you, it is waiting to be acknowledged.