In author and educational coach Marshall Goldsmith’s introduction to Raj Raghunathan’s book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?, Goldsmith asks a seemingly simple question, “What does it take to lead a happy and fulfilling life?”
Goldsmith answers his own question, “The answer to the question, it turns out, is both a little simpler and a little more complicated than you might think. It’s simpler because, ultimately, it doesn’t take that much more than what you already have to be happy. As you’ll learn toward the end of this book, beyond basic necessities and adequate health, it takes just three things to be happy: (1) great social relationships, (2) a sense of purpose (doing something meaningful), and (3) a ‘positive’ attitude toward life – an attitude that lets you feel a sense of being in control even in challenging times. That’s all it takes to be happy.”
He then explains that it is more complicated because now that you know what it takes to make you happy, you would like to understand why it makes you happy. Understanding, however, involves delving into decades of research on the subject. And, once you understand why these three things make you happy, you then need to formulate a plan to get to that happy place.
Well, Raghunathan lays out a bit of a blueprint or plan for happiness by detailing the seven happiness habits you should acquire and the seven happiness “sins” you should avoid. Below, I’ve explained these sins to avoid – check out the book for the corresponding habit to pick up!
Devaluing happiness. As we go about our daily lives, we create mental “wish lists.” We wish we could lose a little weight, we wish we could make more money, or we wish we could make up with that old friend. Do we ever put “happiness” on our wish list? Do we wish that we were happy? Probably not because it seems such an intangible thing – something we will get to after we lose that weight, make more money, or have more friends. Instead, we need to stop devaluing happiness and start actively putting it on our wish list.
Chasing superiority. We live in a competitive society which often translates into our wanting to be better then others at something. We want to have the best job, the most well behaved children, the best hair or to make the tastiest challah. We make comparisons with other people and often weigh our own worth in relation to those comparisons. Research shows that the tendency to see how you stack up against others is the biggest deterrent to happiness.
Desperate for attention. If we always want to be the center of attention, we are constantly looking for approval from others and for outside recognition. This can also greatly reduce the level of our happiness. It can also lead to avoiding relationships that we don’t believe we will be the star of, and therefore shy away from social interactions.
Being overly controlling. When we desperately feel the need to control others or outcomes (which, of course, is out of our control), we are taking away from our ability to be happy. Making a plan and sticking to it, is a great way to attempt to achieve happiness, but thinking that we can control all elements of our lives will ultimately lead to disappointment and unhappiness.
Distrusting others. As I mentioned above, a large part of happiness is positive social interactions. If we don’t trust those around us, we will be insulated and isolated. This can lead to missing a key piece of the happiness equation.
Indifferent pursuit of goals. When we set our minds to being happy, when we create a plan to get there, we need to pursue those goals. This means that we need to care about the different steps of the plan. If we indifferently pursue different goals, then we will not be able to achieve happiness.
Ignoring or underestimating our instincts. Sometimes we mistakenly think that if we have a plan, we need to stick to it no matter what. It’s great to pursue that plan, but if you see that it is not making you happy or you have a niggling feeling that something is wrong, take a moment to reevaluate. Don’t just rush headlong in any direction!
The reason that Raj Raghunathan wrote his book is because fifteen years after getting his MBA, he spent time with some old classmates and noticed that while many of them were successful in their careers, they were quite unhappy. He observed that many were out of shape or harried. Clearly, these friends were excellent decision makers. They had built empires from scratch and were among the smartest people he knew, so why were they so unhappy? That’s when he discovered the seven “sins” of happiness – and also the seven habits as well.
One quick tip for the happiness habits? Do random acts of kindness. It’s common sense, but when you do good, you feel good. So, make it a habit.Rifka Schonfeld