|What if you could earn money by feeling worse?|
Sometimes when you are trying to find your way, it’s useful to look at where you DON’T want to go and use that as your guide.
Throughout our lives, much of our behaviour is designed with the ultimate goal of creating a positive emotional state. In effect, I want the better job, the cream cheese bagel, the Hawaiian holiday, and even a sense of meaning and purpose BECAUSE I believe that if I get those things I will be happy. Or content. Or joyful. Or at least not depressed.
We spend our lives oriented in this one direction, and often seem to miss the target: we don't feel all that happy. Daniel Gilbert has written an excellent book, Stumbling on Happiness, showing that human beings are fairly poor at guessing what will make them happy in the future. As a result, a good part of our lives is spent pursuing goals that will not give us what we imagine.
In our depression groups, people would often try to figure out what might help them feel better, and they felt blocked or stumped in this quest. So we turned the question around and asked what they might do if they wanted to feel worse instead. Suddenly the barriers evaporated and people came up with all kinds of ideas. Listen to country music, call up a critical relative, sit naked in front of a mirror – the main challenge was stopping the exercise once it got rolling.
The secret, of course, is that most roads downward run both ways. Behind each technique for producing misery lies an alternative that may lead to an alleviation of misery, or even to a positive emotional state. As well, once we come up with a list of strategies to make ourselves unhappy we can sometimes realize with a shock that we are already doing many of these things – as though we really did want to feel worse, not better.
I find that this is almost always a helpful exercise for people’s personal growth or therapy. What would you do if your agenda was to feel unhappy, stuck, bored, depressed, burned out, or otherwise dissatisfied with your life? What has led you in that direction in the past? What strategies, yet untried, do you think would lead you there if you put them into practice?
The exercise looks like it’s headed the wrong way. But I believe we have greater clarity when we look for things that make us feel worse than when we try to imagine what will make us feel better. In effect, by generating the list and using it as guidance to find the opposite, we may produce greater improvement than by chasing unsatisfying rainbows.
For the purpose of this posting, let’s try a challenge.
Imagine that 10 days from now you could win a large sum of money (in my groups, we make it $10 million - what the heck, it's imaginary) if you could make yourself more unhappy on that day than you are now. I’m giving you 10 days because maybe some of your strategies won’t work right away and require some time to have their undesired effect.
The fine print: You can only do or change THREE things (maximum) in your mind or life. And you can't list anything that's not in your own power to do (no alien invasions, no global economic meltdowns).
So: I dare you. If you wanted to feel worse, you would …
Reply and suggest your three options. Let’s see what you come up with. If I get enough replies I'll tabulate them and comment in a future post.
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