Happiness is something that we all want, yet so few feel as though they really understand how to achieve it consistently. We are constantly bombarded with messages that tell us that material items, the right partner, and external achievement metrics will deliver the happiness that we want.
But we soon discover that when we achieve those things, nothing actually changes. So what's going on?
The problem is that once we achieve the external things we aspire to, we don't actually feel differently in the long run. We can attribute this to two phenomena.
First, our brains play tricks on us, and they don't help with the process of finding true happiness. The prefrontal cortex is a critical part of the brain that allows us to think of the future and of what we think will make us happy. In Stumbling on Happiness, psychologist Dan Gilbert goes on to say that you won't know if or how much something will make you happy until you have actually experienced it.
Think of how many times you sit and fantasize about how happy you would be if you only had xyz. Have you really experienced those things? If not, then you can't accurately predict how happy or improved your life will be once you achieve them. Again, it's your brain playing tricks on you.
The second phenomenon is that, paradoxically enough, achievement is a roadblock in itself. When we achieve something we get a hit of dopamine in our brains, which tricks us to think that we are happy. But once the achievement is over, you are left feeling the same way you did before. This tricks us into thinking that the more we achieve, the happier we will be, but in reality, all you do is get burned out and exhausted.
So what really is the key to happiness? The fun part is that it just requires a very simple habit.
That's right. Happiness is not about chasing after the things "successful" people do or have, and it's not about constant indulgence. Happiness is not about getting a therapist or hiring help (though doing those things could be a great next step to unleashing your curiosity).
Curiosity is the key to finding the happiness, positivity, and forward momentum in anything you do. It helps you maintain a sense of wonder about the ups and downs of life.
One big example is that curiosity can lead you to learn that we each have powerful negative mental chatter that can create a more negative world. By reversing those negative messages--and approaching them with curiosity--you can experience an immediate sense of joy and calm.
Get curious when you have your next blow up. Pause during those moments when you seem to react violently or experience a greater than average reaction to something that seems very simple. Those are the breadcrumbs to your baggage. Without curiosity, it's easy to think that another person or a situation is what is wrong, when in reality the situation has triggered an internal wound from the past. Knowing what that wound is, is the key to learning to shift your reaction. Because those wounds are from the past, they aren't a reflection of a real threat in the present.
Be curious: it will allow you to begin a journey where everything is a mystery to unravel, and that will ultimately lead you to more peace, joy, and happiness.