I want to look like Eckhart Tolle. Like Deepak Chopra. Like Buddha under the Bodhi tree. I want to walk around with the same look of serenity on my face. Have you ever seen Eckhart smile? Have you heard him speak? He has the dignified bearing of a sage with the voice of a teddy bear; that is, what I assume a teddy bear would sound like if it could talk. Uber adorableness. Someone please clone this man. There should be one of him in every home.
Here’s where I get frustrated: I’ve read Tolle’s books, seen Chopra’s appearances on TV, and watched the story of Buddha’s spiritual shift on PBS; the fact that they make happiness sound so easy is what makes it so difficult for me. Don’t get me wrong – intellectually, I understand that life is probably a lot simpler than we allow it to be, but spiritually, it’s a difficult concept for me to grasp. For someone who, like me, desires a structured, a step-by-step process, telling me that the key to happiness is to be “mindful” or to be aware of my “presence” is incredibly patronizing. It’s like telling a student driver to forget everything they learned in driving school and just put their foot on the pedal, their hands on the wheel, and drive. Trust me, I know how odd it sounds when I say, “I want to be happy. Can you give me a manual that includes mantras in the annexes and a ‘Troubleshooting’ section in case the method doesn’t work? Thanks.”
I don’t think that unhappiness is necessarily the result of major life changes or hardships. Sure, losing your job or someone you love, experiencing abuse or being diagnosed with an illness is going to bring you down. However, years of researching human behavior has shown me that we have an incredible capacity to overcome even the greatest misfortunes. No, I believe that our unhappiness is byproduct of a lot of the little things we do every day that keep us trapped in self-limiting, self-defeating, and self-destructive behaviors – and these behaviors are what create our reality.
I pulled out the data that we collected from people who took our Emotional Intelligence Test and focused specifically on those who indicated that they are not content with their life.
Here’s what our analyses revealed:
- 30% of people who are not content struggle to find the “silver lining” in difficult situations. They fail to recognize that in spite of the emotional upheaval that hardship brings, it can also offer a valuable lesson that can lead to greater self-awareness and self-improvement. So that next time the bleep hits the fan, you know exactly how/when to duck.
- 39% don’t make it a point to count their blessings and be grateful for all the things they do have, focusing instead on what they don’t have or on all the aspects of their life that they are not happy about.
- 44% change themselves (their beliefs, their values, even their appearance) but not in the spirit of self-improvement. Rather, they do it in order to fit in with or please others.
- 45% do not have a repertoire of healthy coping mechanisms to help them deal with stress, like social support, therapy, regular exercise, or meditation.
- 50% avoid conflict or hesitate to speak up when something is bothering them – they don’t want to “rock the boat.” This results in bottled up feelings and a buildup of resentment. If I had to come up with a graphic representation of resentment, I’d go with the “festering wound that just never heals.”
- 54% are afraid to show their weaknesses or vulnerabilities and to express their feelings. They refuse to ask for help and support, even when they need it.
- 56% tend to expect the worst (of situations, of others). They don’t allow themselves to be hopeful because they’re afraid of being disappointed.
- In their desire to be nice to others and not cause conflict, 57% take altruism to an extreme and allow people to take advantage of their kindness.
- 57% insult themselves, criticize themselves, or call themselves names.
- 59% focus on their weaknesses rather than recognizing their strengths.
- 59% set their goals exceedingly high, resulting in inevitable discontent and disillusionment when they fail to achieve them.
- 62% consistently put other people’s needs ahead of their own, even when they don’t want to.
- 64% lack a sense of direction and are living in a state of limbo. They haven’t set any meaningful goals for themselves.
- Here’s a question: When is the best time to engage in an activity that you enjoy? Answer: Anytime – especially when things in your life are not going well. 65% of the people in our discontent group fail to do this. They refuse to have fun!
- 65% give up too easily on their goals or their dreams after they experience a setback or failure. If they don’t achieve something right away, they would rather give up than waste more time.
- 67% are not monitoring their thoughts, allowing negative, self-defeating beliefs to take root. I can’t tell you how important it is to, not necessarily police your thoughts, but to be more mindful of the negative thoughts that swirl around your head unchallenged.
“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
- Rather than take pride in their accomplishments, 68% of discontent people berate themselves for their failures.
- 69% give other people too much power over their emotions, their self-image, and their happiness. I know how difficult it is to recognize that:
- It’s not other people’s actions that make me angry or sad; I am making myself angry or sad.
- Other people’s opinion of me is not nearly as important as my opinion of myself.
- Other people cannot make me happy. They are never going to live up to my idealizations.
- And finally, 74% of discontent people are unhealthy perfectionists. No matter how much they accomplish, they still feel like they should be doing more; they’re still not good enough to be “successful.”
So why am I pointing out all the things that you might be doing wrong rather than what you’re doing right? It’s kind of like The Biggest Loser: All that exercise and healthy eating will be useless if you don’t make it a point to uncover the underlying patterns (e.g. emotional eating, lack of social support, self-defeating thoughts, etc.) that lead to the weight gain to begin with. That’s why some people gain the weight back. The way I see it, in order to take a step in the right direction, I need to know what I’m doing wrong. I need to recognize my own personal hell for what it is, before I can create my utopia.
That is, until my Eckhart Tolle clone arrives in the mail. I hate Amazon’s slow delivery.