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Why Self-Help Might Actually Be Making You Less Happy

https://www.gq.com/story/why-self-help-makes-you-less-happy

gq.com

Why Self-Help Might Actually Be Making You Less Happy
Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann explains why our constant pursuit of self-help, self-betterment, and happiness has us thinking about ourselves all wrong.

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Constant self-optimization

Constant self-optimization

The problem with focusing on constant self-optimization is that it is a process without end. We can never say we've reached the full version of ourselves. We may feel that we are not (and can never be) good enough. We're never allowed to be happy and satisfied.

Also, it's not that you shouldn't become your best self, but the concern is that the self-help craze, with the drive to optimize yourself all the time, has become pathological.

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Self-optimization and depression

In a way, depression is our way of reacting, withdrawing, and possibly metaphorically recharging our batteries.

There's so much pressure in modern society to perform and be productive, to be efficient, that we don't get time to recharge. This leads to sadness and loss of energy.

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Something concrete we can change

We should stop trying to adjust people to circumstances that are not worth being adjusted to. If people suffer from stress in an organization, try to look at how work is organized and change it, instead of referring them to something like stress coaching, or psychotherapies or mindfulness exercises that are really just treating symptoms.

These sensitive, intelligent, resourceful people should be out changing the world, not just sitting in therapy rooms trying to improve themselves.

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Too self-focused

In the self-help world, it is very common to say that you need to work on yourself before you can work on the world. It's not a stupid thing to say.

But, people are becoming too self-absorbed, looking only on themselves and forgetting to take an interest in the people around them. We actually need people who are brave enough also to take an interest in the broader structure.

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Reconcile ambition with self-improvement

We're obsessed with being ourselves, being authentic, being unique. This is sad because what if you find that you are just the average, boring, mean person.

It's better to emulate someone you look up to. If in doubt, ask what your role model would do.

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Self-improvement and happiness

  • Be interested in something beyond yourself. Go into the world instead of looking at yourself.
  • Try not to be so obsessed with happiness. Life is not just about being happy.
  • If you pursue valuable and meaningful activities, you will attain happiness as a side effect more than as something you are able to pursue directly.
  • Meaning is often something you discover rather than something you choose. Saying happiness is a choice is a lie because happiness depends on more factors than you can control.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Happiness

Happiness

Happiness, like other emotions, is not something you acquire. It is something you are.
This implies that happiness is not a goal that you can reach. It is a side effect of a particular se...

Happiness is not the same as pleasure

While pleasure is correlated with happiness, pursuing pleasure does not cause happiness.

People who focus their energy on materialistic and superficial pleasures end up more anxious and less happy in the long run. Pleasure is necessary, but it's insufficient.

Lowering one’s expectations

Failing to meet your own expectations is not the opposite of happiness. Your ability to fail and still appreciate the experience is key to happiness.

The joy is not in getting what you want, but the process of working towards it, then raising the bar, and doing it again. If you fail, learn from it. 

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Elements of well-being

Elements of well-being

Well-being can be broken into five elements:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

If you improve ...

Wired for pessimism

Pessimism comes naturally to people because thinking about the bad stuff that could happen helps us to prepare for survival.

The problem is that pessimists think bad events are permanent and unchangeable. "I think my interview is going to be a disaster." We need to learn to recognize what we're saying to ourselves and then argue against it. "I've done many interviews in my life, and they generally turn out well."

The need for hope

Meditation - mindfulness, focusing on the moment - is an excellent anti-anxiety, anti-anger tool..But accepting suffering and finding contentment in that means you can't move into doing something good in the future.

One important idea is hope. Positive human future doesn't come about by accident - it needs hopeful people who plan for it and make it happen.

Chronically unhappy people

Chronically unhappy people

Not everyone knows how to be happy or how to deal with the bumps and annoyances of life. When people get stuck in temporary setbacks, they can easily forget that happiness is never out of reach.

Complaining a lot

When life throws a curveball, it's enough to make anyone complain. However, when complaining goes unchecked, it can become a habit that makes it easier to be negative than positive.

Tips for coping:

  • Learn to use positive and encouraging language to the people around you and to yourself.
  • Practice seeing the good in every situation.
  • Celebrate the good times, and meet each day with optimism.

Becoming your own worst critic

Being overly critical of ourselves can increase anxiety about a situation. Mulling over what happened is like self-criticism on repeat.

Tips for silencing your inner critic:

  • Stop expecting perfection from yourself. Learn to accept your mistakes, acknowledge them, then put them behind you and focus instead on continued growth.
  • Stop looking for what's wrong about you and focus on what's right about you.
  • Turn your attention to what could go right instead of what could go wrong.