We are more resilient than we realize. As human beings, we have an amazing ability to cheer ourselves up after feeling saddened. Decades of psychological studies have revealed our tendency to protect our individual sense of worthiness. When this is threatened by a setback at work or a bad relationship, we will explain, justify, defend, and even exaggerate to ourselves and others to feel at peace with the situation. One study found that participants who failed to get a job of their choice felt less upset just ten minutes later when they were able to rationalize the reason why it happened (for example, believing that the interviewer was a jerk)1. Such recovery from adversity happens automatically and unconsciously; you do it far more often than you realize! Before lamenting over the inevitable downsides of life, trust in your natural ability to cope with negative events and move on from them. In hindsight, you’ll be glad you maintained a positive attitude.
It’s easy to judge a dark cloud on the horizon, but maybe the downpour you expect will turn out to be a mere drizzle. Even if a negative event is unavoidable, reassess your happiness expectations by considering how upset you will actually feel and how long this feeling is really going to last. Be optimistic and trust in your inherent human ability to recover and thrive.
One final note: in addition to what you think will make you unhappy, carefully examine your choice of happiness-boosting activities. One study found that people underestimated the happiness boost they received from a simple outdoor walk, relative to a walk indoors2.
Your first opinion of a happiness technique may be narrow and misleading. If you are struggling to find happiness, temporarily depart from your usual strategies and preferences; you might discover something that you had never considered before. Indeed, on our happiness journey, the path we are inclined to avoid may actually lead to what we truly desire.
1. Wilson, T. D. & Gilbert, D. T. (2005). Affective forecasting: Knowing what to want. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 131-134. 2. Nisbet, E. K. & Zelenski, J. M. (2011). Underestimating nearby nature: Affective forecasting errors obscure the happy path to sustainability. Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797611418527.
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