The path to happiness and the path to being an expert overlap.
Here’s the problem though: research shows that you don’t usually do what really brings you joy or makes you an expert — you do what is easy.
Sitting on the couch watching TV does not make you happy:
“…heavy TV viewers, and in particular those with significant opportunity cost of time, report lower life satisfaction. Long TV hours are also linked to higher material aspirations and anxiety.”
You are happier when you are busy and often have more fun at work than at home.
How is that possible? You spend a lot more time in high-challenge, high-skill situations that encourage flow states during work hours. You’re more likely to feel apathy during leisure time at home.
Via Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness:
…the study found that while at work (relative to home/leisure), these individuals spent a great deal more time in high-challenge, high-skill situations (that is, those situations that foster flow) and less time in low-skill, low-challenge situations. Indeed, they were inclined to experience a sense of efficacy and self-confidence during work hours but to experience apathy at home. However, when probed about what they’d rather be doing, these participants uniformly stated that they’d rather be doing something else when working and that they preferred to continue what they were doing when at leisure.
Thinking and working can beat sad feelings. But you avoid those because they take effort.
You spend up to 8 minutes of every hour daydreaming. Your mind will probably wander for 13% of the time it takes you to read this post. Some of us spend 30-40% of our time daydreaming.
Via The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You):
Do you remember what the previous paragraph was about? It’s OK, I’m not offended. Chances are that your mind will wander for up to eight minutes for every hour that you spend reading this book. About 13 percent of the time that people spend reading is spent not reading, but daydreaming or mind-wandering. But reading, by comparison to other things we do, isn’t so badly affected by daydreaming. Some estimates put the average amount of time spent daydreaming at 30 to 40 percent.
Problem is, a wandering mind is not a happy mind:
“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.” …subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.
So, what should you be doing?
- Things you’re good at.
- Your default is to do what is easy, but you’re happier when challenged. You need to fight your instincts.
- “Signature strengths” are the things you are uniquely talented at and using them brings you joy. People who deliberately exercised their signature strengths on a daily basis became significantly happier for months.
Mastering skills is stressful in the short term and happiness-boosting in the long term. Ambitious goals make you happier.
But maybe you’re afraid of failure. This is why you do what is easy and why your instinct is to play it safe. Fear of failure is one of the most powerful feelings.
When challenged, focus on “getting better” — not doing well or looking good. Get-better goals increase motivation, make tasks more interesting and replenish energy.
But what is the end goal you should focus on? Is there an easy way to think about what you should be heading toward?
Yes. Think about the best possible version of yourself and move toward that.
If you enjoyed this post, share it with friends. We all deserve to be happy. 🙂
Little things you can do to increase long term happiness:
Harvard happiness expert and author of “The Happiness Advantage“, Shawn Achor gives some science based tips for increasing well-being.
In The Happiness Advantage, I challenge readers to do one brief positive exercise every day for 21 days. Only through behavioral change can information become transformation.
• Write down three new things you are grateful for each day;
• Write for two minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours;
• Exercise for 10 minutes a day;
• Meditate for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out;
• Write one quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising someone in your social support network (family member, friend, old teacher).