Hard-Wired for Happiness

Carnival ride“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” ~ Epictetus

Happiness is one of my favorite subjects. I think most of us would like to experience more happiness and less unhappiness in our lives. But we’re not always sure how to do this.

Srikumar S. Rao, Ph.D., is an expert in the fields of happiness and flourishing. His work was first brought to my attention via Jonathan Fields’ blog, awake@the wheel. In his book, Are you Ready to Succeed?, Dr. Rao asserts that happiness does not come to us as a result of circumstances or acquisitions. Rather,

…happiness is already a part of your innate nature. There is nothing you have to do or get in order to be happy. All you have to do is allow it to surface.

The problem, he suggests, is that we think that if we get/obtain/have something, then we will be happy. For instance, “If I get the promotion, then I will be happy,” or “If I move to Bali, then I will be content.”

There are two obvious problems with this line of thinking. First, the “if” is always changing. As soon as we reach one goal, we may be momentarily satisfied, but the inner craving for “more” inevitably rears its head. Second, this model implies an external source of happiness, which, by definition, is outside of our control.

The solution, according to Dr. Rao, is to set goals and strive to make improvements in your life and in the world. Do so, however, with the understanding that you should focus on the process (over which you have some control) rather than the outcome (which you cannot control). In other words,

Act with the full acceptance that what you do is somewhat within your control, but the results are not.

This subtle shift in thinking can have a profound impact on your sense of well-being and happiness. Lately, I have been trying to focus on the process while releasing the need for things to turn out a specific way. It’s not that I am not interested in the outcome. Rather, I realize that I only have control over that which I can actually control. I have noticed that I am much happier when I remember to do this.

The results of any endeavor will be what they will be. And this zen-like detachment can lead to a much greater level of peace and contentment.

Has this been your experience?

Below is a 9.5-minute video of Dr. Rao discussing these concepts at a “Happiness at Work” conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

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