Back to my review on the book, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?” that talks about the “sins” that prevent happiness. The fourth deadly sin is wanting too much control.
A lot of people feel most comfortable when they have total control over their environment and everyone in it. But the truth is, this is always going to lead to unhappiness and increased tension because we can never truly be in complete control.
And we shouldn’t want to be. Think about it – you probably don’t like to feel controlled, so it’s only logical that others don’t like to feel controlled by you either.
Let’s say you try to control your partner’s diet by pushing him toward healthier food. There’s a good chance he’ll start eating more junk food just to show you that he’s in control of what he eats. Plus, he’ll likely resent you for being critical of his dietary habits.
Feeling the need for control can also lead to your finding more unhappiness in everyday situations. To give yourself a better chance for happiness, then, focus on finding internal control over your thoughts and feelings.
This will help you both take responsibility for your own happiness and stop blaming outside circumstances for how you feel.
So rather than falling into a depression when your significant other has to leave town after you’ve spent a week together, try to stay happy and remain focused and appreciative of the moments you were able to share.
By taking responsibility and exerting internal control, you can also choose not to expose yourself to situations or people that you know are bad for you. So if there’s a particular person who always puts you in a bad mood, you can try to avoid crossing paths with that person.
Have you ever received a perfectly nice present from someone, only to have it tainted by your suspicion that it was given with an ulterior motive?
This scenario is related to the fifth deadly sin: constantly distrusting other people.
Sadly, we all have a natural tendency to worry that we could be betrayed by another person at any moment. We’ve evolved to be distrustful because for our early ancestors, distrusting others improved chances of survival. A certain wariness made it more likely that one would live another day and procreate.
Distrust is also an effort to protect ourselves from the painful feeling of having our heart broken. But if we want to live a happier life, it’s best to learn how to be understanding and forgiving.
If you’ve been betrayed, don’t wallow in unhappiness; instead, minimize the pain and try to understand the other person’s side of things.
If you hate someone for what he’s done, try putting yourself in his shoes and see if you can’t come to understand his behavior and motivations, even just a little bit. Chances are, you probably can. Maybe his actions have something to do with his genetics or upbringing, or even his own fears.
Understanding is the key to forgiveness, and forgiveness is one of the most powerful ingredients for happiness.
You’ll find that it’s much easier to forgive once you understand the personal benefits of forgiving. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you need to keep the person you forgive close to you; all it means is that you let go of the hate and anger, and know that you can move on with your life.
Once you learn to forgive, you’ll find that trust will come more easily.
The sixth deadly sin is being either too passionate or too indifferent about the events in your life. Here we find two different pursuits that can lead to unhappiness. One is the obsessive pursuit of passion and the other the indifferent pursuit of passion. Being too passionate is like being too stubborn or inflexible about the goals you hope to reach.
With this perspective, the only good, or happy, things in life are whatever brings you closer to your goal. That means everything else is bad, and thus you’ll be unwilling to adapt to and unhappy about the many changes and realities life has in store.
Let’s say your goal is to marry someone and have two children. If it doesn’t happen, you’ll surely be unhappy, but if it does happen, you might discover that you’re still unhappy because some aspect of your plan didn’t turn out as perfectly as it should have. Either way, you’ll be the one standing in the way of your own happiness.
Conversely, someone who’s indifferent to the pursuit of passion is a person who doesn’t care at all about what happens. Such people aren’t interested in or curious about their own life and might even marry someone they don’t like just for the hell of it.
Neither of these perspectives is good – so it’s best to find the healthy middle ground: the dispassionate pursuit of passion.
With this perspective, you have a preference of how you’d like things to happen, but you’re flexible if it doesn’t turn out that way. In fact, you can be accepting and understand that negative experiences can actually become a positive.
All this requires is some patience and the realization that events we originally thought were nothing but horrible can transform into the most meaningful moments in our lives. Even if you get fired, it could very well end up putting you on a new career path that’s twice as rewarding as before.
We really do learn the most from the biggest challenges we face.
We now come to the last, but not the least, of the deadly sins: mind addiction – that is, the very natural tendency to overthink – which can distract us from our intuition.
When we make rash or poor decisions, we often blame our instincts, yet instinctual behavior is far from random. Our intuition is connected to our evolutionary past and can pick up on details we might not be consciously aware of.
Indeed, our instincts are quite finely attuned, and yet we spend a lot of time being distracted from what they are trying to tell us. This is why practicing mindfulness is a great way to reconnect with ourselves.
To start with, try focusing on your breathing. Be patient and attentive, and allow yourself to notice your thoughts while at the same time letting them pass without engaging them.
This will help you to avoid getting caught in the GATE web, which stands for Goals, Action, Thoughts and Emotions and illustrate how they beget one another.
Let’s say you’re in your boss’s office getting a verbal warning for doing something wrong. This might lead to negative thoughts about your boss, which then provokes negative emotions. Finally, you take the action of yelling back at her with the goal of making her feel bad too.
But wait, step back from the web and instead take a deep breath and focus on your inhalations and exhalations. There is a way to leave these situations with a healthy emotional state.
It might sound too simple, but focusing on your breathing is a remarkably effective way to be calmer and more mindful.
Smart people often overthink themselves into unhappiness. So try to use your smarts to avoid the seven deadly sins of unhappiness.
We can find happiness when we focus on the right things. Put yourself on the right track by finding flow in your everyday life and by making healthy, sincere and loving connections with the people around you. Happiness is not something you have to chase; it comes from within. So remember to breathe, connect with your own intuition and give your mind a rest. Happiness isn’t as unattainable as you might think.
Check out my related post: How to solve for happy?