The path of a happy life is full of traps.
Now and then, some of these traps mess up our happiness a bit – and often we don’t even know what happened!
Let’s explore them, understand our brain a bit better – and learn how to avoid them 🙂
Why would our brain want to mess up our happiness?
All these traps formed for a similar reason: our brain evolved with survival as the main aim – and it did a marvellous job with that — and happiness was not its priority.
While it wonderfully equipped us to survive, it set us up for a couple of traps that are often messing up with our joy and satisfaction.
Don’t worry – there are good news too: our brain is wonderfully adaptive, and once we recognise the patterns, we can train it pretty well to avoid these traps.
Seven traps on the path to happiness
Simply, our brain is wired to give more attention to negative happenings around us than to the positive.
That means that it will give more “weight” to any negativity and that every negative thing around us will “feel bigger” than it is – while we will more easily miss out to notice and savour positive things.
To avoid this trap, we need to actively train our brain to focus on positive through practices such as appreciation, focus on positive, optimism, connecting with positive people, and filtering news that we are surrounded with.
Our brains are designed to adapt to things quickly.
Hedonic adaptation, also known as “the hedonic treadmill,” is a general human tendency to return to a set level of happiness despite life’s ups and downs.
The novelty of experiences wear off quickly – the second bite of the chocolate cake is never as good as the first one, relationships and jobs fall into too much of a routine, and achieving new goals or getting new things gets very “old” very fast.
It is simply a logical way for our brain to save energy and automate everything it can, turning it into a habit and getting used to it very quickly – but also quite a killjoy.
We can fight hedonic adaptation in many ways: bringing novelty into “old” things; doing new things often within our job, life and relationships; developing appreciation and power of seeing things from a new perspective, practising savouring, mindfulness and building a base of meaning in the foundation of our pleasures.
Turns out that we humans are notoriously bad at predicting what will make us happy.
We make a lot of assumptions in our decisions that are wrong and silly.
To resolve this, there are two things we can go about it: understand our predictions and their consequences a bit better, and not get overly stuck in overthinking our decisions but instead focus on how we implement them and make them work out in the best way.
“Keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome escalated with the growth of social media.
Comparison is all about noticing what others do/have/are…. and getting stuck on thinking how in some way they are doing better than ourselves.
The consequence is a ton of negative emotions but also a lack of appreciation for all the good stuff we have and a feeling of discontent with our own life.
Instead of comparing, can we develop a mindset of learning from others, getting inspired by their ideas, and getting motivated for new goals?
Equally important, could we shift our focus to appreciating and strengthening our authenticity and originality – instead of chasing similar goals and achievements as people around us?
Some of the ways of working against the trap of comparison, apart from using others as a source of inspiration instead of envy, is developing self-compassion, strengthening JOMO, actively developing gratitude and appreciation for all the amazing things that we have, working on mindfulness and presence and remind ourselves that other people’s “external world” can’t be compared to your “internal world”.
One of the most challenging bits when building a happy life is to achieve a balance between being content in two very different aspects of life:
the “big picture” of our life: how we feel about our life what kind of story we are telling to ourselves (and others) about our past and present, what kind of aspirations and meaningful goals we have for our future, does it all sounds meaningful and important to us,
and everyday moments: are we present in our everyday experiences, is our life rich with positive emotions, can we be mindful in our experiences and relationships, do we experience pleasure, savouring and fun.
To fight this, it is best to strive to spend most of your days present and mindful – while taking dedicated time for reflection about the future and your values, vision, aspirations and checking if you are on course towards that future.
It is also important to be aware of our tendencies and habits – reflecting which of these two aspects is stronger in our life at the moment, and how can we strengthen the other one?
This is the famous trap of “if I get this / if this happens, then I will be happy….” – in other words, thinking that our happiness is a consequence of some external circumstances, while it is much much more dependent on what is happening within our head.
Out internal experiences are the habits of our thinking, such as:
• stories we tell in our mind about our experiences,
• how we assign meaning to things and how we explain how some event impacted our life or day,
• do we remember to appreciate and look for positive sides of each experience,
• are we focused on circumstances that we cannot control or on the aspects that are under our influence?
and that is where the source of our happiness lies!
We can work with this in many ways – but the main one relates to any Mindset related work (have a peak on our Pillar 5 – Creator’s Mindset) and to developing meaning in things that we do (have a peak on our Pillar 11 – Meaning and purpose).
7. Too much focus on others’ needs and too little on our own needs
Many of us are inclined to do all that we can to make others happy and take care of their needs – yet we do not extend the same kindness and care to ourselves.
But for a happy, fulfilling life we should take care of BOTH our own needs and others needs (with limitations of what we can help them with and realizing that some of it are their responsibility), with equal importance given to both.
This is a trap that we can avoid but strengthening Pillar 4 – Being our own best friend and developing our self-compassion, self-love and our skill of listening to ourselves and our needs
What can you do to make sure these traps are not messing up your happiness?
Take a moment to reflect on these 7 traps: which of them is most tricky for you?
Read the linked article about that trap so you could understand it better.
Make a list of 1-3 ideas how could you work with that.
Ideally, share your thoughts with a friend for accountability, but also because they might give you a new perspective.
And then get into action!
All in one solution: How to avoid all of these traps?
Even though you can find plenty of ideas under the link on the article about that trap specifically, in general, we can work on all of these in similar ways:
Just remember: whenever training your mind, do it like with a puppy
Share with us
Which of these traps is the trickiest for you? Which one did you never notice before?
How are you dealing with them? For which one do you need more ideas?
Do share in comments – but also to start a conversation in our Positive Psychology Tribe virtual community for meaningful conversations.
Looking to learn more about happiness and wellbeing?
Join us for the “12 steps to happiness” virtual course starting for an immersive, engaging journey in 12 virtual 2h modules.
You will get to explore these topics in a small group, positive environment, with a lot of learning, tools, discussions and active reflection – and with a lot of direct positive consequences to your wellbeing and happiness.