Why Trying to Find Happiness is Like Chasing Your Own Shadow

Did you ever notice how many books, self-help and even coaching programs are claiming to help you find and increase happiness. There is no doubt about it; happiness has become a lucrative business for those wanting to exploit it. The problem with most of these claims is that they simply don’t work. In fact, they actually hinder the process of achieving happiness.

This might seem odd coming from someone that so deeply believes happiness is attainable for everyone. Furthermore, my interest and applications of positive psychology seem to contradict the previous paragraph…or does it?

While it is without question that the interventions used in positive psychology have been researched and scientifically validated to be effective, our expectations and uses of them can sometimes be counterproductive. Let’s take an example: In the three grateful things exercise, one is asked to write down (daily) three things they are grateful for. This simple action is supposed to lead to increased happiness. If your expectations then are that by just quickly writing this down, your happiness levels will automatically soar, you have been misled. The whole point of this exercise (and most every positive psychology intervention) is to be mindful of the present and let yourself experience positive events/emotions as they occur. Happiness is a process rather than a destination. If for example, instead of just writing down what you are grateful for, you take a few minutes to re-experience the emotions of gratitude associated with what you are writing, you are actually reliving them, exercising your positive emotions muscles and now, are you on your way to increasing your happiness levels.

By doing this exercise daily, you are training yourself to be on the lookout for gratefulness and experiencing it as it happens. Later, as you write it down, you relive the positive emotion and increase your experiences that contribute to your subjective well being.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against books or programs designed to increase your happiness levels. In fact, there are actually many good ones like Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness, Todd Kashdan’s Curious, Barbara Frederickson’s Positivity, etc. I just want you to be cautious about their claims and your expectations about them. It is not the end result that will contribute to increasing your happiness but rather taking the time to enjoy the present, being made aware of what is already there but seems to be taken for granted.

Much like a shadow, happiness is a state you cannot catch. However, if you are looking out for it, you will realize that it was right next to you all the while. All you had to do was take the time to be aware of your immediate surroundings and allow yourself to experience the little precious moments that can contribute to your overall happiness levels.

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