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  • Writer's pictureDr Maike Neuhaus

Are you MISWANTING? 7 things people do that (unknowingly) make them unhappy

What you hope to achieve in your life, whether big life goals or smaller stepping-stones along the way, is likely a means to achieve happiness. In fact, we’re neurologically wired to strive for pleasure or reward and avoid pain. And identifying those goals and stepping stones to happiness, in other words ‘what you want’, is a key part of the self-leadership journey.

Take a minute to think about what is it that YOU want. Think of any dreams or goals you have – big or small, materialistic or experiential. If it’s just one wish or 100 doesn’t matter. Just pay attention to what comes to your mind.

How did you go? Did you have fun thinking about your dreams? Did you feel the thrill of imagining the feeling of having them all fulfilled? That happy thrill? Any chance that you might be miswanting? Have you heard of 'miswanting' before? Here is what you need to know in order to avoid it.

Are you MISWANTING? 7 things people do that (unknowingly) make them unhappy
Are you MISWANTING? 7 things people do that (unknowingly) make them unhappy

If you ask me, miswanting is one of the most interesting findings from recent positive psychology research. It shows that we are terrible at predicting what will actually make us happy. That we think once our wishes, no matter what they are, become fulfilled, we’ll be happy. That the thrill we feel when writing our wish list will be the story of our life once those wishes have been realised. However, research has repeatedly shown that reaching these goals will leave our happiness mostly untouched. Once achieved, we just won’t experience that spike in happiness we thought we would. Or, it will be very short-lived. Sucks, right?

Here are 7 things people do that (unknowingly) makes them unhappy.

1) They aim for stuff, rather than experiences.

This includes striving for the latest tech gimmick, a fancy car, a bigger and better house or materialistic wealth in general. They might see a short spike in excitement post-purchase, but that will fade sooner than most expect. On the contrary, aiming for experiences will actually deliver on its happiness-promise. This can be an overseas holiday, but also as little as a nice meal out with friends, a (free) trip to an art gallery or a long walk on the beach will work.

2) They wish for positive experiences.

Wishing for positive experiences is often rooted in a focus on what’s lacking in life and thus a negative experience in and of itself. A better alternative is to practice acceptance and identify steps you can actively take towards your desired goal.

3) They try to avoid negative experiences.

By the same token, trying to avoid negative experiences focuses on, well, the negatives. Paradoxically, accepting a negative experience instead is a positive experience in and of itself.

4) They aim for one big trip of a lifetime.

I am still guilty of this myself: when planning a holiday, I try to maximise the duration of the trip as much as I can. However, research shows that splitting up our holidays (or other positive experiences) into a few smaller ones across the year is a much more efficient way to harness the happiness they provide us with.

5) They assume they won’t be able to cope in a crisis.

Most of us anticipate negative future events to be a lot worse long-term than they actually will be. This includes the thought of a divorce, being injured, losing a job, or even losing a loved one. The truth is that on average, we are a lot more resilient than we tend to predict. So, no need to worry about the future so much.

6) They assume that happiness is a matter of the right circumstances.

This is true only to a small proportion of our happiness. Another small fraction is determined by our set-point. This is a relatively fixed point, personal ‘average’ or baseline, which depends on our genetic material and includes aspects such as our personality. However, most importantly, research has shown that our happiness is predominantly determined by our voluntary control, such as our behaviours and habits (keep an eye out for a blog article on 10 things you can do to increase your happiness).

7) They wait for the one in order to be happy.

We often think that finding true love and getting married will make us live happily ever after. While that is true for some, you don’t need to put all eggs into the one basket. What really delivers the happiness factor is authentic relationships in and of themselves – romantic or not. So, if you’re (unwillingly) single, don’t let this drag you down by focusing on the missing one. Instead, focus on and nurture the friendships and authentic relationships you already have.

So, the next time you think about your dreams and goals, prioritise those that will deliver on their happiness-promise.

Maike x


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