Misguided Paths to Happiness
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2016 (edited December 28, 2021)
We engage in a variety of thinking errors in our pursuit of happiness. If we catch these errors, we can make significant life improvements
A flourishing life requires multiple skills. We must manage negative debilitating thoughts, regulate powerful emotions, productively secure a living and build relationships, and find some meaning and purpose in it all. The volume of confusing advice for living healthy usually falls into one of these categories. The well-being field is flooded, information flowing from countless sources. As a wellness expert, I find sorting through effective and ineffective information difficult. Our success in navigating this path begins with avoiding thinking errors that impact all aspects of wellness.
The Happiness Error
Over the last century, happiness has become the goal, shifting from traditional ethical living to seeking whatever "just makes me happy." Previously, happiness was a beneficial consequence that accompanied living a constructive life. We now consume products because they promise happiness, not because of underlying goodness—to self or others. Suppliers fill the shelves, aisles and web pages with products that promise happiness.
We are notorious poor at predicting what will make us happy. Plenty of things provide an immediate surge of positive arousal, but the feeling affects quickly fade and we return to the same drab lives.
Our thinking error is we confuse happiness with pleasure.
See Pursuing Happiness for more on this topic
Healthy Behaviors and Happiness
Often life benefiting behaviors take time to marinate before blooming into greater well-being. The patient follower must courageously cling to wisdom while persisting with difficult new actions. We are easily distracted, misled by promises of ease and give in to the tempting images of instant success.
Our thinking error is we demand immediate returns on healthy behaviors.
See Wellness Basics for more on this topic
Emotions as a Guide
Confused by the mass availability of data and deceptive authority, we fight uncertainty by relying on feelings. If it feels right, we pursue. Emotions are adaptive and powerful regulators of life. However, they have pitfalls. They don't perfectly guide. Many actions produce pleasant sensations while creating long-term damage, while other actions cause discomfort in the present but bless in the long-term.
Misinterpreted meanings extracted from positive and negative feelings direct us down erroneous paths. Over-reliance on emotions, trusting they cannot lead us astray is a thinking error, leading to future sorrows.
See the Emotional Guidance System for more on this topic
"Life benefiting behaviors take time to marinate before blooming into greater well-being."
Change is Easy
Changing behavioral trajectories requires effort (a Lot of it); we must face the stubbornness of engrained habits and protective thinking. Adjusting course demands persistently forcing different actions than our inclinations. This doesn’t feel good, demanding exhaustive mental effort.
When we challenge justifying thoughts, it doesn’t feel good; resisting chemical dependencies doesn’t feel good; listening to advice doesn’t feel good; sacrificing present pleasure for a better future doesn’t feel good—at least at first.
Our thinking error is expecting change to be easy.
See Why is Change so Difficult? for more on this topic
Many Thinking Errors that Lead Away From Goals
There are many errors of thought that can lead us off track.
Our task is to catch some of the errors, correct when possible and improve our lives.
"The problem isn't that Johnny can't read. The problem isn't even that Johnny can't think. The problem is that Johnny doesn't know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling."
We must be skeptical, slow to abandon proven behaviors for attractive shortcuts. Look a little deeper. Look for evidence. Ask a few questions. Are there confirming studies? Who conducted the studies? Where did the idea come from? Is the idea all-encompassing, ignoring complexity?
Slowing down to investigate, asking a few questions, may save us from many unneeded hurts and setbacks because of erroneous thinking. We are human; we occasionally will be duped. Upon first contact, we may like an idea because it sounds right, but with further examination and a few probing questions, we often discover the error, avoid wasting time and can pursue a more productive course on our way to happiness.
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