Five Happiness Killers

Today I was invited onto ABC Radio in Brisbane to discuss happiness and “Happiness Killers” with Ashwin Segkar. Here is the audio (12 minutes).

It was lots of fun. Below are some main points I prepared for our interview.

Money doesn’t buy happiness but poverty does increase sadness

I didn’t get time to mention this one but I meant to, and it’s important enough to mention it here. This fact is fairly well established in the research. Since money is a modern conduit and strategy (for the past 3000 years anyway!) for meeting certain of our needs – such as food, shelter, health, relaxation, information, connection, and purpose through contribution – a lack of money means some of our needs remain unsatisfied.

In Australia, most of us have our basic survival needs met (food, water, shelter). The sadness produced by lack of money is largely not from the stress related to survival or practical matters (such as paying bills), although it can be. Rather, the sadness is related to feelings of shame, inadequacy or failure, and a sense of having certain freedoms and dignities denied, which especially shows up regarding social status, education and health care.

So is happiness all in the mind then?

No. Our life circumstances are important, but they aren’t everything.  We cannot deny that supportive family and friends and good access to healthcare and education helps a lot, but these do not make you happier per se.  Rich people have depression and mental health struggles too. In fact, research suggests that being quite wealthy increases stress and worry. You have a lot more to lose. Money takes away some forms of stress and meets some needs more easily, but it does not buy more happiness. Why not?

Happiness is a fleeting feeling: It comes and goes

I agree with Andrew Solomon who says “the opposite of depression is not happiness, it is vitality”. One of the callers on the radio rang to say he thinks contentment is more important than happiness, and that contentment requires gratitude and acceptance. I agree with him 100%. In my view, acceptance and gratitude, vitality and meaning, are more important than happiness. So how do we get there?

The main game in psychotherapy is increased awareness which includes an awareness of the more abiding parts of ourselves, our deeper needs and our core values. Finding our own truths and meaning in life, rather than living out others’ ideas of how we should be. I have written other blog posts on connecting with our needs and values, so I will link to them here and here.

Yet we must acknowledge that a great deal of our thinking and behaviours as human beings create our suffering states, such as powerlessness, resentment, exhaustion, envy, anxiety, guilt, depression and disappointment. That is my take on the meaning of ‘happiness killers’. Here are the five Happiness Killers I spoke about at the ABC today.

My Top Five Happiness Killers

  1. Complaining – You make yourself the victim. In doing so, you end up feeling helpless and powerless.
  2. People pleasing – You make others’ approval more important than your own truth. Then you end up resentful and exhausted.
  3. Comparisons – Compare to people who have less than you, you become vain or feel guilty. Compare yourself to those with more and you feel inadequate (also called shame), or emotions like jealousy and disappointment.
  4. Caring more about what other people think of you than about your own truth. This breeds shame, anxiety and insecurity.
  5. Inactivity – Your emotions are bodily. You hold stress in muscles and neural pathways. The body remembers even when you forget. We all need a release of tension and of endorphins sometimes.

What can you do to stop this self-sabotage?

  1. Instead of complaining, ask: “What can I do? What IS in my control? What are my options? Even if it is just changing your attitude. Refuse to be a victim any longer.
  2. Instead of people-pleasing, remind yourself: “I am okay as I am. I don’t have to apologise for being me, for being human, or for my thoughts and feelings
  3. Practise gratitude for everything you already do have and have achieved in your life.
  4. Be unapologetically yourself. Not sure how? Get a coach or a counsellor who can help you get clear about deeper emotional needs and values. Refocus your mind on what you need to live by your values. Most of the time, your assumptions about others’ judgements of you are wrong anyway.
  5. Move your body. Using physical energy helps with depression and anxiety. This has been validated by many excellent research studies. Watch this powerful TED talk to be inspired in a 100% non-shaming way.

I thought of several more Happiness Killers in preparing for the interview. They included having strong attachment to expectations, “should” thinking and worrying about the future. The list could go on, right? If you have any other happiness killers or antidotes, please let me know below.