When you ask people what they want out of life, they often say that they “want to be happy.” But research has shown that happiness isn’t as fulfilling as we might think it is.
Roy Baumeister and other social psychologists published a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology investigating the difference between meaningfulness and happiness.
Based on their investigation, here are three findings that they discovered.
When I was in sixth grade, I was pretty good at guessing. I couldn’t see the blackboard that well from where I sat, so I learned how to recognize the patterns of the letters and numbers. But when I was preparing to go to junior high, I thought it would be worth getting glasses so that I could see the board. I knew I would be at a new school with new kids I had never met before, so I figured that would be a good time to make the change and get new glasses. If I wanted to see the board, I realized I would have to make a change. I couldn’t expect to see the board without doing something different. As much as I didn’t want to have glasses, I wanted to be able to see the board more. So I was willing to make a change. Because new situations require new paradigms.
You will face similar situations in your life. You may not want to have to change, but you will feel the pain of not changing is greater than the discomfort of doing something different.
I tell my clients all the time that if you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always get what you’ve always got. The thinking that brought you to where you are is not usually the thinking that will get you to where you want to go. You have to be willing to change the way that you think. Because new situations require new paradigms.
Based on the parable Jesus told in Luke 5:36-39, here are three ways people resist making changes in how they perceive things.
Here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where I live, we have horses on our property. But these horses are skittish. If you approach one of the horses by walking toward it, the horse will run away from you. It will think that you are a predator coming after it. In order to approach the horse, you cannot walk toward it directly. You have to walk like you’re going somewhere else, and approach the horse indirectly. If the horse thinks that it is the focus of your pursuit, you won’t be able to get to the horse. But if it thinks that you are pursuing something else, then you will be able to get to the horse.
That situation is like so many other things in life: You can’t focus on what your goal directly, or else your goal will prove elusive. You have to pursue something else in order to get to your ultimate goal. Because the goal is the pursuit, not the goal.
Here are three situations where you cannot focus on your destination, but instead you must focus on the journey.
What makes you you? When someone says to you, “Tell me about yourself,” what do you say? Are you the profession you chose? Are you the organizations that you belong to? Or are you your ethnicity? What is it that you allow to define yourself?
Many people assume their identity stems from who they believe they are, and many take their identity from external realities. When asked what they do, they respond, “I am an architect.” Or “I am a dentist.” By responding that way, they allow their profession to define them.
Others define themselves by the organizations they are part of. They may say, “I am the NRA.” Or “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” I think it’s great to be part of organizations. God made people to be relational, so it is perfectly fine to be part of organizations. But when people allow organizations to define them to the point of giving them their identity, then that becomes a problem.
Then there are others who allow themselves to be defined by their ethnicity. They may describe themselves as Scottish, or Chinese, or African (all three of those ethnicities live in my house), and I think it’s great to be proud of your ethnic heritage. But when your ethnicity defines who you are, then you lose your identity to your national origin.
So how should you think about your identity? Here are three principles to guide your thinking in that context.
I’ve been asked many times throughout my career if I am a pastor. And since I am not ordained, I respond in the negative. But I am a minister. And for that matter, so are you. Because your business is God’s business.
What you do for a living matters to God. While God wants some of us to become pastors, He does not want all of His kids to become pastors. He wants some of us to be involved in the business world. By serving Him in business, we can be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) to those we work with, those we work for, and those who work for us.
God wants you to do your work so that others see Him in your work. You do that best when you conduct yourself as a person of integrity. God wants you to do the right thing even if no one is there to check up on you. He wants you to use, what Proverbs 16:11 (NIV) calls, “honest scales.”
Based on Proverbs 16:11, here are three reasons why “honest scales” are important in God’s business.
How’s your personality trajectory? Do you like the person you are becoming? Do you feel you are becoming more like the person you want to be? If not, it may have something to do with the people you hang around. You will become like who you hang around.
Think through what kind of person you want to become. And consider the people you hang around. To change your personality trajectory, allow yourself to meet new people. You will become like the people you surround yourself with.
Here are three key questions you must ask yourself in order to be aware of the influence that the people you hang around have over you.
Have you ever seen barnacles attached to a ship? These little crustaceans latch onto a marine vessel and hold onto the ship to feed. While they may seem harmless enough, they cause many problems for the vessel. Similarly, you can have things that become attached to your mind over time. You may not be aware of them at first, but eventually they can cause you many problems.
People who work on a ship understand that it’s important to remove the barnacles. In the same way, it’s important for you to get remove these things that have become attached to your mind.
Here’s what you want to prevent becoming attached to your mind, how they are similar to barnacles, and what you can do to clean those things from your mind.
In the movie The Matrix (1999), the character Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) shares insights with his protégé Neo (Keanu Reeves) about what it means to be free and what it means to be captive: “Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”
[Spoiler Warning: In this dystopian world, humans created artificial intelligence that took over the planet and subjugated humans as their source of energy to power the machines. Neo is one of these people who was oblivious about his captivity, but Morpheus offers him the opportunity to escape the captivity and understand what is truly real. Neo accepts the opportunity, and Morpheus proceeds to explain to him what “the matrix” is and what he can do to defeat it—as the fate of humanity depends on him.]
In The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo:
The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. … It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Like The Matrix, we are all born into a world where our mind is imprisoned. Like Neo, we must learn what “the matrix” is and how we can defeat it in our own lives.
Here are three things you must do to get yourself free from “the matrix” you were born into.
When you think of the attributes of successful people, what do you think of? Do you think of someone who is a winner-take-all negotiator? Or someone who ruthlessly pursues what will enhance their life? Or someone who desires to win at all costs?
While those characteristics may be the world’s standards for success, God has a very different standard. God doesn’t value a kind of success where you are the only one to win. God values a kind of success where you help others win. Because when others win, you win as well.
Psalm 41:1 (ESV) says
Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him.
To be truly successful, here are three characteristics from Psalm 112:4 and Psalm 116:5 you need to develop in yourself.
Everyone says they want to be happy. People frequently quote from the Declaration of Independence about the importance of the “pursuit of happiness.” And yet most people today are not truly happy. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” While that may sound surprising, it is nonetheless true. Happiness is a choice.
You may know people that aren’t happy unless they have something to complain about. Although I’m saying that tongue-in-cheek, you know who I’m talking about. They have chosen a way of life that involves listening to negative voices and looking at the negative side of things. Their negativity is a choice.
A few years ago, an Australian palliative care nurse wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. In the book, Bronnie Ware recorded the themes of regret that repeatedly surfaced in the final days of dying people. And one of the top five: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Ware goes on to say: “They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives.”
People can listen to the wrong voices in their life. As a result, they think that’s how they need to live their lives. But those voices do not bring happiness. Instead they bring misery.
If you want to be happy, then you have to decide that you will not listen to negativity. If you truly want happiness in your life, then you need to stop listening to these three voices.