Stop pursuing happiness, and other practical tips for living better and feeling better.
The great American poet Robert Frost wrote: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I forged my own path. And that has made all the difference.
There’s a lot out there telling us which path we should be on. Well, we’ve never been ones for sticking to the path.
What happens when we choose the middle way, and we bushwhack our way through the undergrowth of conventional wisdom?
Four experts share their counterintuitive tips on living the good life:
Stop Pursuing Happiness
Start pursuing wholeness.
Hugh Mackay, psychologist and author of The Good Life: What Makes a Life Worth Living, says that the pursuit of happiness can actually lead to unhappiness.
He shares how a simple course correction can lead to a more fulfilling life:
“I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that - I don’t mind people being happy - but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness.
It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position - it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much.
Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.”
Stop Avoiding Failure.
Start embracing failure.
Carol Dweck, psychologist and bestselling author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, says that there are two basic mindsets that shape our lives.
A “fixed mindset” says that our qualities are set — we are who we are, with a certain personality and a certain level of intelligence. A “growth mindset” says that our qualities can be developed — we are who we work hard to become.
Attribution: Beck Diefenbach, Special To The Chronicle
She shares how changing the simplest belief about ourselves can significantly improve the way our lives unfold, both personally and professionally:
“When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.
In one world, failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.
In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort.
In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.”
Stop Saying Yes.
Start saying no.
Greg McKeown, bestselling author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, says that success is actually a catalyst for failure.
He calls it “the clarity paradox” and it goes like this: When we have clarity, it leads to success. When we have success, it leads to more opportunities and options. When we have more opportunities and options, we lose focus. When we lose focus, we no longer have clarity.
He shares how one word can restore clarity and set you back on a path to success:
“If success is a catalyst for failure because it leads to the “undisciplined pursuit of more,” then one simple antidote is the disciplined pursuit of less. Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials.
Not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”
Stop Setting Goals.
Start setting habits.
James Clear, bestselling author of Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, says that success is the product of daily habits, so we should stop focussing on the finish line (goals) and start focussing on the starting line (habits).
Attribution: James Clear
He shares how a slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination:
“Making a choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse seems insignificant in the moment, but over the span of moments that make up a lifetime these choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be. Success is the product of daily habits — not once-in-a-lifetime transformations . . . If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains or tiny losses, and see how your daily choices will compound ten or twenty years down the line.”
Attribution: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less