I often hear people complain about what they are doing. Before they do it. While they do it. Even after they do it. This begs the obvious question: Why are they doing it in the first place?
After all, they should always be doing what they want to do — they have that choice. But here’s what is so interesting. Sometimes, they are doing what they want, they just forget it!
This is how the mind works. It’s designed to take amazing shortcuts to plan, dream, create, etc., only sometimes our wondering minds come with an expensive emotional burden. Sometimes, you might find yourself in the middle of doing something you once wanted to do, but instead of focusing on that task you start thinking about what else you could be doing.
This is a recipe for unhappiness!
So how can you fix it? How can you enjoy your choices more in these situations, and always make sure you are making the best choices for yourself? Let’s illustrate with an example:
Our old friend Bill went to medical school but often complained of what he was giving up. Now, Bill went to Med School because it would bring some amount of happiness. He was also giving up a bunch of other perks in life that would bring him some lesser amount of happiness. For Bill, some arbitrary “Happiness Units” for this choice might have looked like this:
|Bill’s Happiness Checklist|
1. Use Your NET Happiness to Enjoy Choices
In this case, going to medical school would make Bill twice as happy as not going and preserving a salary, a social life, time to exercise and not having to move collectively would have. Bill’s best decision is to go to Med School because the Greater Desire yields far greater Happiness Levels than the Smaller Desires he has to sacrifice.
Ideally, like Bill, you want to make choices in life that make you the happiest. Every choice comes with some collateral damage; You must give up the other joys that a different choice could have provided to increase your overall Happiness Levels.
And here’s the first simple trick: Stop focusing on what you’re giving up!
Accept it. Ideally, you are making the choice that makes you the happiest. Focusing on negativity and these other outcomes that would have resulted in a less happy version of you is not self-serving. Not to mention it’s silly and completely illogical and going to make you less happy.
“I could be doing this instead.” “The grass is greener…” “I wish I had a salary right now,” the Bill might say one night while studying for a test.
Does he?? Would it really make him happier? Isn’t he going to Med School for a darn good reason?
Here’s the second trick: Don’t forget the reasons you make your choices!
Instead, use this Net Happiness Principle (NHP) to reinforce them! In Bill’s case, the second he identifies that his choice was the better possible choice he could make — he can stop lamenting the loss of having time for friends, a salary, etc. and weigh it against his overall happiness. Is it really better for him to not be a doctor and have these things instead? Of course not, so what good comes from focusing on those things?
Now, it’s possible he doesn’t want to really go to Med School, whether he miscalculated the benefits from the beginning or his feelings have changed. Whenever your decrease in Happiness from what you’re giving up (here, “Not Going to Med School”) exceeds your increase in Happiness from what you decided to do (“Going to Med School”)…STOP! Change what you are doing and alter your actions immediately, because they are making you unhappy!
For the numerically inclined, the instant that this equation is negative you are harming yourself:
Happiness Levels = (What You’re Doing) – (What you could be doing)
Here’s a good checklist whenever you are complaining about doing something:
- Do I really want to do THIS, or am I just complaining about what I’ve given up?
- If I’m not doing what I want to do why am I wasting another second doing THIS?
You should always be doing what you want! We’ll explore that in detail in another post.
A Simple, Everyday example
This trick isn’t reserved for grand life gestures. It can be used all the time. Take this story of our old friend Joyce. She decided to drive 45 minutes from her home, fill up a car with gas, install a new battery and leave it for her mother to use when she arrived to visit from out of town. Only, when she went to do this, the first thing she said was “Man, I don’t want to spend the next few hours doing this when I could be relaxing at home!”
Did she just start complaining? To the complaint checklist, Batman!
1. Did she really want to be doing this?
She said, “I thought it would be nice to set my dad up with a working car.”
That’s generous. But is it better than what she was giving up? Was it too much effort for such a deed, especially when compared to how enjoyable relaxing on the couch sounded.
“Well, I don’t think so,” she thought quickly. “It’s only a few hours, and it would be pretty cool for my mom. I’d love it if I were in her position.”
And with that, there was no need to explore question two, because Joyce threw on a smile and enjoyed giving her mom that gift for the next two hours. After all, that’s why she volunteered to do it in the first place.
It’s a neat trick. Try it for yourself.