We’ve all heard these pep talks before…
“Expect more out of yourself!”
“Be all you can be!”
“Good enough is never good enough!”
“Set the bar HIGH!”
Your parents, your boss, your childhood soccer coach, and of course every self help book you’ve ever attempted to read has made these statements at one time or another.
These mantras are the melody of success for high achievers. We spend most of our days in a constant state of movement attempting to make ourselves better, richer, and smarter.
High achievers often beat themselves up about past mistakes and fret over the possibility of making new ones in the future. We’re so caught up in engaging in personal and professional growth that we miss the moment here and now. We read The Power of Now. We think we are enlightened. And, then we forget how it works by the very next day.
These mantras aim to push us to do more, be more, and learn more. They are ultimately what drives us to try what’s not been tried and do what’s not been done.
And, when we engage in these high-achiever tendencies, we do in fact get better. We lose the extra 5 pounds. We connect with our kids more. We make our spouses feel more satisfied.
Life is good. We’re happy.
But sometimes, despite our best efforts, life throws us a curve.
Our company downsizes. Our kids fail a class. We gain the 5 pounds back.
And, that happy, enlightened feeling you had just a day ago? Well, that has disappeared in just a matter of seconds.
And, all of a sudden, we’re not so pleasant to be around. We snap at the Starbucks barista who uses whole milk instead of non-fat. Our head feels cloudy. Our chest tightens up. The little things become harder to deal with.
We tell ourselves that when we get life back on track, we will definitely feel better.
But, in that moment, we are not happy. Things are not going our way.
For the most part, setting the bar high is an admirable and worthwhile way of thinking.
Except when it relates to our happiness.
When it comes to being happy. We need to change our way of thinking. Instead of requiring perfection before allowing ourselves to feel joy, we need to make it easier for us to actually experience happiness.
We need to set the bar LOW.
That’s right. I know. I know. It goes against everything we high achievers tell ourselves on a daily basis.
But, it’s true. We need to set the bar LOW. Hear me out and imagine this scene.
Let’s imagine Mike (name made up). Mike is on track for success. He has a beautiful wife and family. He is well educated, and he maintains a good job and a good living. Mike is moving in the right direction!
Mike should be happy, but he is not satisfied.
He thinks he needs to make more money. He wants his kids to do better in school. He knows he needs to drop some pounds. According to Mike, if all of this happens, then he will really be able to feel good about life.
So, Mike keeps on pushing the boulder up the hill, and most days, he feels pretty mediocre at best.
Mike plays a continuous record in his head that says, “When I just get to the next level, I’ll be much happier”
Does that sound familiar?
Why isn’t Mike happy now? It’s not because his life sucks. It’s because he hasn’t given himself permission to be happy, to be joyful for the moment he is in right now.
His Happiness Bar is too high.
It’s a delusion for Mike to think that the ‘next level’ will be the answer to his happiness. It never is, because as soon as we climb the mountain, there’s another one right over the horizon. We never get there.
Fancy what would happen if Mike lowered the bar? What if he made it drop-dead easy to feel joy? What if he changed his perception about what needs to happen before he can feel happy?
Today, what if Mike just decided he needed to accomplish these two things in order to feel joy in his life:
1. He has to wake up
2. His wife and kids need to wake up, too.
That’s it. If those two things happen, Mike is allowed to feel happy.
What do you think Mike’s chance of success would be? It’s certainly not foolproof, but at least for this one day, his mindset would change, his attitude would change, and his level of happiness would change.
If Mike decides to make a more consistent effort to think differently, 99.9% of the time, he could choose to be happy. He could realize that happiness is a state of mind that can be altered.
Because he set the Happiness Bar LOW.
A couple tools to helping us set the Happiness Bar low is practicing positivity and prioritizing people. In a recent article on happiness on the FirstRound blog, Scott Crabtree, CEO of Happy Brain Science, says that these two factors are key to helping us build the necessary muscle to rewire our brain.
Practicing positivity helps because the brain only holds one thought at a time. The more positive thoughts we have, the less time and energy we spend on negative thoughts and emotion. When you focus on negative though, you’re phasing out your ability at that time to focus on what’s not going right.
The number one factor in happiness is the quality of our relationships, according to Crabtree:
“When you focus time and attention on your relationships, they improve, and that improves your happiness. You also improve your coping ability because you have more support. Bottom line: Warm relationships can fuel happiness more than any other single factor we have found.”
So, there’s more than just cliche behind practicing positivity, and the key to jumpstart your happiness is to make sure you’re sepending time building high-quality relationships.
How high is your Happiness Bar? Would you consider trying to lower it for couple weeks? You just might like all the joy and bliss that comes along with setting that bar closer to the floor instead of the ceiling.
(Thanks to Natalie Susi for helping me edit)