Archive for Happiness

Attachment: the root of insecurity and anxiety

What do we worry about? Whether we will lose our job? Whether our spouse will leave us or cheat on us? Whether a loved one will fall ill and die? Why do we worry about such things? Do we worry because they are likely possibilities? Or is such worrying mere paranoia? In either case, how can we reduce this anxiety?

Like it or not, none of the events I have mentioned are unavoidable. We can certainly reduce the risk of their occurrence: if we work hard then our job is more secure; if we take care of ourselves then our health is better; if we put a lot of energy and love into our relationships then we are less likely to split from our spouse. All of these efforts will improve our lives and will lower our anxiety. However, if we are after some kind of 100% guarantee that nothing will go wrong, then we were born to the wrong species and we live on the wrong planet.

Ultimately, anything could happen. The only way to find security is to accept this. The root cause of our anxiety is attachment. We are attached to the idea that our happiness relies on financial stability, a secure relationship, and good health for ourselves and for those around us. Because none of these things can ever be guaranteed, we can never be rid of anxiety if we harbour such beliefs. We can only release anxiety if we accept that any of these things could be taken away from us, and that it does not matter if they are.

Thus, we must drop our attachments. We must ask what is really essential. If we answer this honestly, we will find that our happiness has more to do with who we are than with what happens to us. It is easy to become attached to an idea and to convince ourselves that we cannot be happy without it. However, this is ultimately a delusion, leading only to insecurity and anxiety. We must realize that none of these things are so important after all.

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Gratitude: Focus on what is right with life!

Depression and loneliness inevitably result from focusing on what is wrong with our lives. If we always complain about our job, it will definitely lead to dissatisfaction. If we constantly criticise our partner, it is guaranteed to cause frustration. The problem is that we give too much attention to the negatives. Although we do not need to be artificially happy and optimistic about life, we do need to maintain a realistic view. For most of us, this means acknowledging that there is a lot more that is right with our lives than that is wrong.

When we dwell on something negative, we tend to exaggerate its importance. We expand the issue in our minds, and conclude that we cannot possibly be happy until it is solved. For example, suppose we are single and wish we had a partner. If we dwell on this continuously, we will quickly feel lonely and depressed. Furthermore, we will believe that things cannot possibly improve until we find a partner. Such thinking is plainly nonsense. In the first place, we probably have a huge number of things in our life to be happy about already. In the second place, even if our life genuinely is miserable, there are many different sources of joy that could cheer us up. It is foolish to limit ourselves into believing that one specific condition is necessary for our happiness. This causes us to ignore all kinds of opportunities. Focusing on the positive things in life helps combat this limited thinking and is thus guaranteed to improve our outlook.

This idea is best expressed with the principle of gratitude. If we train ourselves to feel grateful in life, then we are necessarily focusing on what is right. Although people often think that looking on the bright side is nothing more than feel-good optimism, it is usually quite reflective of reality. After all, if we write down all that we have to be grateful for in life, the list will be incredibly long. Therefore, gratitude actually paints a more realistic picture of our situation. This can prevent us from making terrible mistakes, such as abandoning a loving spouse or a promising career because we are too focused on the negatives to realize all that we have.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of regular gratitude practice, such as writing down 5 things a day to be grateful for. Such practices have been shown to increase happiness and to reduce depression. In addition to such things, we can also simply observe whether our thoughts predominantly focus on what is wrong, or on what is right. Do we spend more time complaining about our job, or rejoicing in it? Do we criticise or do we praise our spouse? Do we talk about what we want and desire in life, or do we comment on how grateful we are for all that we already have? Whatever our balance, it can usually be shifted in favour of the positive. Not only will this make us feel better, it will probably make our outlook more realistic as well.

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