Why do we think life is so hard?
I was listening to an episode of the podcast Freakonomics the other day, talking about our tendency to believe that we face more headwinds than tailwinds, and how this breeds resentment. Also, we tend to overlook what is going well, or in other words, we don’t recognize the
tailwinds that have boosted us along, thus missing out on the chance to appreciate gifts and opportunities we have had. This leaves us ungrateful and unhappy.
The tragedy of this really struck me. When I dismiss even the small victories or overlook the help I’m already getting, I miss out on savoring these gifts.
We assume that if we fell into some windfall, if we got that great job or found a fantastic partner, we’d be happy forever. But more often, the reality is that we adapt to finally achieving that thing we so badly wanted, and we quickly move on to wanting the next reward. This leaves us feeling hungry, feeling like we’re missing out on the great life someone else has. We think we’re missing that one thing that would satisfy us, and meanwhile we never get to feel satisfied. Instead of relishing in our good fortune, we’re left feeling empty and resentful.
It makes sense why we do this. We naturally focus on the obstacles we need to overcome, since these require more of our attention and energy, while the advantages that help us along fall into the background. This is called the negativity bias. Instinctively, humans scan the environment for problems and potential threats, as a way of keeping us and our loved ones safe, and at some point in our history this made a lot of sense. Because of this bias, seeing what’s going well requires intentional effort.
Have you ever accomplished a goal you’ve longed for, something you’ve worked your butt off to achieve, only to then immediately shift your focus toward, “what’s next?” This can happen so fast, we don’t even notice it.
This is where creating a few simple habits can greatly impact our happiness. These practices shift our perspective to include what is going well – the invisible tailwinds that have boosted us along. I’ll say more about these practices in my next post, How to Be Happier in 5 Minutes.