Seeking Happiness During Challenging Times May Leave You More Stressed and Less Fulfilled

Summary: In times of uncertainly, the pursuit of happiness may not have positive results, researchers say.

Source: Lab of Misfits

Lab of Misfits, the world’s only perception-focused neuroscience creative studio headed by Dr. Beau Lotto, recently conducted a “Looking Back” experiment. 400 people were asked to imagine being at the end of their life. Looking back, what had they wanted from life. Was it joy? Wealth? Wisdom? Meaning? Success?

Then, looking back on 2020, they were asked how these life purposes were
impacted by the uncertainty in the last year. Did 2020 change what they want out of life? How were certain goals impacted by the past year compared to other goals? What was discovered says a lot about different mindsets when faced with uncertainty, and could be useful as we head further into 2021.

To the question “what do you hope your life’s purpose would have been?”, happiness was the most popular answer. But when asked how they experienced 2020, the same people who had chosen happiness as their life’s purpose responded negatively. They experienced not only less joy, but also less fulfilment, as well as creativity in 2020. The also experienced more stress, loneliness, and anxiety than others.

Countering that finding, the participants who chose authenticity as their purpose responded more positively to the challenges in 2020. More than half even said that they were living in a way that supported their purpose even more. They were also more extroverted, sympathetic, open, and less anxious than average.

On the other side, those who chose happiness felt much less aligned with their purpose and goal, and were more disorganized, critical, less dependable, and reserved.

So, why are people whose focus is on happiness more prone to disappointment, stress, and anxiety when faced with uncertainty?

The brain works on prediction; “I will be happy when XXX happens.” This creates the possibility for continual disappointment (if we set our expectations for happiness and it doesn’t deliver, we are disappointed). When we are disappointed, our brain registers it as pain, and often the pain of disappointment is more acute than that which is induced physically (this is due to the release of endorphins from
physical pain). The weight of disappointment often leads to stress and anxiety.

When looking at authenticity, we know that honesty is the known, clear mechanism to achieving it. As opposed to happiness, which most often relies on outside sources, authenticity can be achieved independently. So, the expectation of authenticity comes from within and is less directly impacted by uncertainty.”

So, what is the biggest take-away from the “Looking Back Experiment?

In times of uncertainty, the direct pursuit of happiness may not have a positive result, which could be considered ironic. Yes, happiness might be achieved, but through other strategies and if we’re willing to adjust our perception of happiness and how it is achieved (internally rather than externally perhaps).

What we found to be the most meaningful finding of this experiment is the increasing importance of authenticity; self-honesty.

This shows yellow balls with different faces painted on them
When we are disappointed, our brain registers it as pain, and often the pain of disappointment is more acute than that which is induced physically (this is due to the release of endorphins from physical pain). Image is in the public domain

Lab of Misfits’ director, Beau Lotto recounts; “I once asked my 87-year-old uncle the day before he went into a life-threatening surgery about what it means to be a ‘good person.’ His answer was ‘self-honesty.’” What we know is that authenticity is a pursuit. It’s a practice, unlike happiness. It requires not-knowing, and it results in understanding. When we have understanding (as opposed to intelligence), we have the ability to adapt since understanding is to know the underlying principles of something.

“When we seek authenticity, rather than happiness, we learn to adapt (we’re not searching for or relying on something that comes from outside of us). When we know we can adapt, we feel more optimistic and are better equipped when facing uncertainty.”

About this neuroscience research news

Neuroscience News would like to thank Amy Gentry for submitting this research for inclusion.

Source: Lab of Misfits
Contact: Amy Gentry – Lab of Misfits
Image: The image is in the public domain

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