Have you ever looked forward to being happier in the future after you achieve a big goal such as graduating from college, getting married, or finally finding a new job?
Well, I have definitely been there and done that multiple times. When I got my degree, for example, I convinced myself I would be happy after I got my first job. When my entry-level job wasn’t very fulfilling, I told myself I would be happier once I got promoted and moved to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley and paid off my school debts. But, even after all of those wonderful things happened, I still wasn’t happy and thought that getting married would finally make me happy. Well, my husband did bring a lot of light into my life, but I soon realized that I STILL hadn’t achieved a state of true happiness.
The sad thing is that I didn’t even know I was postponing my happiness. I was living with my focus outside myself versus inside. I was living for the future not the present. I was living in my head and not living in my true natural state. Essentially, I had adopted a mental concept—a habitual way of thinking—that was keeping me in survival mode – a place where I was feeling like I was just getting by versus feeling truly happy.
What is the Happiness Trap?
What I discovered during those years of searching for happiness externally is a phenomenon that I call the “Happiness Trap.” It really doesn’t matter what person, place or thing you think will make you happy. I learned that NOTHING outside of yourself could make you happy. Dr. Robert Holden further confirms that “happiness is not in things; happiness is in you.”
Maybe you know someone like me – or maybe you’ve experienced something similar yourself. It turns out that most people aren’t any happier 6-12 months after they achieve a big goal – even winning the lottery. After 6-12 months, we revert to our previous happiness set point.
Many of us seem to have fallen into this trap. In fact, I believe most people who are unhappy today are unhappy because they are looking for an external person, place, or thing to make them happy at some time in the future.
Once I realized the happiness trap, I could see the way out was to embrace the truth that happiness always comes from within and is found in the present moment. That’s why it is so important to choose to be happy now and to cultivate a happy mindset. Hugh Downs confirms, “A happy person is not a person with a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.”
Therefore, happiness is not about what you have (such as a spouse or children, a home in a certain location, a great job title, or something you own) but about being grateful for what you do have and adopting a positive attitude (choosing to be happy) and making the best of everything.
When I researched my career happiness book, Happy Habits: Energize Your Career and Life in 4 Minutes a Day, I discovered there are 4 things you can do to avoid the Happiness Trap.
How to Avoid the Happiness Trap
Here are 4 ways you can avoid the Happiness Trap.
- Realize that you CAN change your happiness set point, but you can only do it be choosing to be happy right now in the present moment. For example, if you are unhappy, ask yourself how is this an opportunity versus asking yourself why it is happening. Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now, says, “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”[i] These are powerful words – and sensible ones, too. Because let’s face it: even if you haven’t chosen the circumstances you’re facing at this very moment, you do have a choice about the attitude with which you face them.
- Look to yourself versus other people, places or things to make you happy. If you are not happy, practice self-love and thank yourself for dealing with your current circumstances.
- Embrace energy-raising activities throughout your day. When you raise your energy, most people feel more centered and happier. To achieve this state, try one of these proven energy-raising approaches: meditate, breathe mindfully, slow down and savor the moment, practice acts of kindness, connect meaningfully with others, express gratitude, listen to music you like, forgive someone, exercise or do any activity that raises your energy and makes you feel happier.
- Shift to a more positive mindset by consciously adopting happier habits. Personally, I discovered that the easiest way to improve your life and feel happier is by changing your daily habits, the things you do on auto-pilot that are not aligned with your highest values. For example, adopt a gratitude habit to start your day off on a positive note.
Have you experienced the Happiness Trap? If so, I urge you to try one or more of these 4 ways to avoid the Happiness Trap. Please share which approach you use to shift to a more positive mindset and feel happier.
[i] Eckhart Tolle. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Vancouver: Namaste Publishing, August 19, 2004.