Only one thing is stopping you from being happier


Many people resist being happier because it doesn’t line up with the type of person they think they are.

Via Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology:

Using other data obtained in their studies, the researchers argued that these effects occurred because people are motivated to sustain a consistent view of themselves. Those with higher self-esteem— people who like and value themselves— see happiness as a state consistent with who they are, and thus they savor their good feelings. Those with lower self-esteem— people who neither like nor value themselves— analogously see unhappiness as a state consistent with who they are, and thus they dampen their good feelings.

If this interpretation is correct, then consistency is a more potent influence on feelings than is hedonism, a conclusion with interesting implications. I have always thought that some people are unhappy because they do not know how to be otherwise. It is pointless to tell someone to cheer up if he or she does not know how to do so. But perhaps another reason that some people are unhappy is that they are motivated to be unhappy— or at least not happy— in order to preserve the view they hold of themselves.

This is fascinating. I’ve posted many times about how context affects us — and how it does so far more often than we care to admit.

So if we’re constantly pushed and pulled by external factors, how do we maintain a personality?

In Robert Cialdini’s classic book “Influence” he explains that the desire for consistency is one of the most powerful factors that motivates us. Our brain struggles to maintain the story of who we think we are, either by affecting our decision-making or by rationalizing our choices after the fact.

Via Robert Cialdini’s Influence:

To understand why consistency is so powerful a motive, it is important to recognize that in most circumstances consistency is valued and adaptive. Inconsistency is commonly thought to be an undesirable personality trait. The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don’t match may be seen as indecisive, confused, two-faced, or even mentally ill. On the other side, a high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength. It is at the heart of logic, rationality, stability, and honesty… But because it is so typically in our best interests to be consistent, we easily fall into the habit of being automatically so, even in situations where it is not the sensible way to be. When it occurs unthinkingly, consistency can be disastrous.

Consistency is how we keep an identifiable personality despite a host of ever-changing influences in our environment.

Well, consistency is good, right? Only to the degree that we want to be who we have been.

And if you’re known as someone logical or “in control”, your desire for consistency is fighting happiness, as in the experiment.

That makes a lot more sense to me now. Good moments happen constantly but many of us dampen them by our efforts to stay consistent. I’m sure this is part of the reason some people are “naturally happy” and others aren’t.

So if you want to be happier, does this mean you need to “be someone you’re not”?

As Christopher Peterson explains, being happier might require one little adjustment.

Via Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology:

See a good day as consistent with who you are.

That might be all it takes.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.



Subscribe to the newsletter