Facing Unhappiness

Why do people get resigned to being unhappy? Why do so many vehemently deny their own unhappiness and stubbornly convince themselves that everything is ok? Or worse, why do beautiful, resourceful people get stuck in the role of the victim and keep on saying that they have just been unlucky in life or that they are now paying for their old mistakes and nothing can be done about it? I have lived in the first category – of those unaware of their own unhappiness – for a long time. I have met and worked with countless in the second category – aware and resigned to being unhappy. The “WHY” in all this still intrigues me. Over the years, my own and others’ experience has brought some interesting answers, which I’m now sharing with you, inviting you to reflect on them. 1. The known unhappiness is much better than the unknown – whatever that “unknown” may be “I have many problems in my relationship, but at least I know my partner, with all the good and the bad. Who knows what other misfortunes I might run into if I leave?“ – this is the staple statement of those who choose to keep their current status-quo, although it makes them miserable, out of fear of the unknown. Not knowing what the future may bring might be scarier than suffering in the present moment. Actually, some hugely interesting experiments where volunteers agreed to receive mild to severe electric shocks, show that people prefer feeling severe pain now than expecting milder pain at some random moment in the future. The idea that pain, even mild one, might come unexpectedly, was simply scarier than the certainty of pain in the present moment. This explains why so many people are scared to leave their dead-end jobs or relationships. It doesn’t make these people right though. If you knew for certain that your brain is trying to trick you by painting the future in scary terms just to prevent you from...

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What Do YOU See When You Look In The Mirror?

Jun 23, 11 What Do YOU See When You Look In The Mirror?

Posted by in Psychology

There are no lies more powerful than those we tell ourselves! And our brains seem to be hardwired to tell convenient lies, that make us feel better and come to terms with our own weaknesses and mistakes. Up to a certain point, this is great – having a rosy view of ourselves helps boost our self – confidence and allows us to overcome adversity. However, often this natural protective mechanism goes into overdrive and people end up living with self-created delusions that harm, instead of helping them. In psychology, this mechanism is called “rationalization” – and, despite its name, has nothing to do with reason. It is our brains’ way to come to terms with conflicting ideas or actions that we’ve taken.   A great example of this is the well known Aesop fable – “The Fox and the Grapes”. Do you remember what the fox thought, when the grapes he craved so much proved to be out of reach? (tasty grapes – out of reach = two conflicting ideas creating cognitive dissonance) Did he say to himself: “Too bad they’re so high up, it would have been great to taste them?”. Or did he say: “It’s clear I can’t reach – perhaps I can find another way to climb up there and eat those tasty, ripe grapes”? As all of you who read the story surely remember, none of these thoughts crossed the fox’s mind. Instead, he thought: “They’re obviously sour” and walked away. That’s rationalization! “So what’s so dangerous about this?” – you might ask. The answer to this question is what prompted me to write this post. And it’s a thought that came to me after several instances of rationalization that I witnessed lately, which made me think – why do intelligent people end up self-sabotaging just because they are afraid to confront their own mistakes? I’m seeing this type of self-delusion very often – managers who refuse to change business strategies which are no longer working, just because they invented...

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Einstein’s Mad-Men and the Dangerous Trip Down the Decision Pyramid

Einstein reportedly said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. By this definition many of us might qualify as insane in one or another compartment of our lives. So why is it so hard to turn around when we find ourselves on the wrong path in life? This question and the idea for this post came to me from one of my readers, Dana, who wrote in a comment on my previous post on “Authenticity” about the layers of “fears” which prevent us from being ourselves. She said that, like peeling an onion, we must first rid ourselves of these layers and then, step by step, find our own unique voice and identity.  This nice “onion” metaphor made me think of other layers we need to shed in order to find our true selves and gather the courage to turn around when our personal or professional road turns out to be a dead end. Some of you may remember another post I wrote about a month ago on “cognitive dissonance”. I was describing this mechanism that makes us basically lie to ourselves in order to feel better about our “not so right” thoughts or actions. Now I’ll take this idea a step further and tell you the story of how cognitive dissonance may get us trapped in a vicious cycle of bad decisions and turn us into Einstein’s “mad-man”, who keeps on doing the same old thing and hopes, against all odds, that the result will be different. Imagine decision making like a pyramid, where the tip is the initial moment when we make a decision – “although I love painting and I’d really like to make a profession out of it, I’ll follow my parents’ advice and go to Economic School to get a degree, since art isn’t really profitable”. Once we’ve made a decision in discordance with our inner beliefs we’ve taken one step down the pyramid. Cognitive dissonance kicks in...

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