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3 Reasons Why You Are Not Happier

· Purpose,Happieness

Associate editor and columnist at Financial Times, Michael Skapinker, caught my attention this week in an article where he suspects that for a generation of us, we have reached a moment in our lives when some of us can't understand why they are not happier. Here are my 3 assessments of why that might be true for you too:

1. First Half Syndrome

In the first period of our adult lives, we are frequently too busy executing on our ambition or the simple realities of needing to earn money, that we don't expect to be especially happy. The study is hard, getting on the corporate ladder is hard, socialising and finding life partners are hard and we take all this hardship in our stride.

The possibility that motivates us is that all this work is taking us to a place we will be happy; something along the lines of a good job, good friends and family, nice home. Waking up and realising we are not happy is a sign of us reaching the start of the 2nd half, or the next period of our adult lives.

Some of us will wonder 'what was it all for?' or 'what is the purpose, my purpose' and feeling cheated that all that work and commitment didn’t deliver what we expected. The possibility that we will be happy through working hard didn't work out, so we need a new set of outcomes for our lives.

2. Conditions of Satisfaction

In my work with large, multinational corporations and tiny startups alike, I find the same 'perpetual misery trap' which operates like this: Look at your work last week, could you have done better? 99.9% of us will likely say "yes, I could always have done better".

That is a perpetual misery trap. You are telling yourself that it doesn't matter what you do, it was not enough. This trap is perpetuated by HR systems who needed to implement a 'stack ranking' to differentiate performance relatively and so staff are apparently motivated to achieve goals that are beyond their capability. The defense against the trap is to set conditions of satisfaction.

This is a habit that is easy to attain. Start small, set yourself conditions of satisfaction for this morning "I will be satisfied with my morning when I 1) make my bed 2) eat a healthy breakfast 3) arrive in time to do the work I am committed to doing IN ORDER TO SERVE MY PURPOSE.

The last part of that sentence is obviously where the devil lies — but you can scale the conditions of satisfaction to almost any promise you make, to yourself, to your friends and loved ones and to work. The major outcome of this is that now, when I ask the question, look at your work last week, could you have done any better? The answer can be "I am satisfied with what I achieved last week".

It might still be true that you could have done better, but so what? If you are satisfied, that is more than enough and you can always reset your conditions to a higher bar for the following week. Just expect that you will achieve them and that you will be satisfied.

3. Staring out of the Window

Some years ago I was coaching a group of young undergraduates at Fudan University in Shanghai and I sent them home with a simple piece of homework; go and ask between 6 and 10 of their friends and family what, in their opinion, was strong within them.

Two weeks later, in the read out of their homework the whole room was in tears, me included, as I had stumbled upon a question that these students had never been asked. Hearing from the people they trusted most, what was strong in each of them was both profound and humbling. It is easy to agree with statements like "you have to learn to love yourself before anyone else can" but harder to put into practice. It is a simple thing to do and I hope you will find it as least as rewarding.

Competition, benchmarking and assessing ourselves against our peers is a way of habit ingrained in us from early consciousness. It is not such a surprise then that many of us become more and more externally referenced or looking for validation and approval outside. Said another way, we constantly stare out of the window when really, a good look in the mirror will show us what we need.

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