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‘Why does it feel like I am always so much unhappier than everyone else?’ This is a frustration that therapists hear quite often. But why is it almost a universal experience that we are in a constant state of discontent? Based on research from Yale, people who focus on pursuing happiness are more prone to depression, due to high expectations, inadvertently setting us up for disappointment.
“It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature, it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains — that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.” -Richard Bentall, Journal of Medical Ethics, 1992.
The best way to rectify this conundrum is to “stop pursuing happiness so aggressively”. We can do that by focusing more on meaningful activities that pertain to deepening relationships with others and/or tasks that spark internal joy. For example, instead of making the goal to run a marathon, setting an ongoing goal to run to clear your head a few times a week, is less likely to inflict pressure and is more easily attainable.
‘Focusing on the journey, not the destination’ is a helpful phrase to not only force us to focus on the importance of here and now but allows us to feel success whenever we put forth effort, not just when we accomplish big goals. What mountain can you climb that you will genuinely enjoy climbing, whether you ever make it to the top?