The 2nd Happiness “Sin”: the Need for Superiority
The 2nd deadly happiness sin is chasing superiority—a sin that is at least partly the result of being socially conditioned to be better than others. We are conditioned by our parents, teachers, mentors, media—virtually everyone in society—to be the “best” at whatever we do. But exactly why is this so important?
In our evolutionary past, superiority served a critical role: it enhanced our chances of survival. “Superior” people—those who were bigger, faster, stronger or wealthier—were more likely to survive. Nowadays superiority also matters: valedictorians get scholarships, CEOs get higher wages, and top entertainers get better deals. This leads to higher self-esteem, makes us confident that we are competent and gives us autonomy. So, chasing superiority is not some shallow or superficial trait that only those with an unusually big “ego” or with a narcissistic personality exhibit. Rather, it is a deep-seated need that almost all of us pursue.
Despite that being superior
enhances happiness, it turns out that chasing superiority lowers the happiness level
. The higher our need for superiority is, the lower our happiness levels are.
This means that no matter how much superior or inferior we are compared to other people, the more we strive for superiority, the less happy we shall be.
In this case it is clear what we have to do to lead a more happy life – to limit our need for superiority, but without risking to lose our chances to be successful.
How can we achieve this? By building the second habit of the highly happy – looking for and finding optimal experiences (called „Flow“).Second Habit of the Highly Happy: Pursuing Flow
Most of us have experienced, at one point or another, what the legendary psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, calls flow—the kind of experience in which you get so absorbed that you lose track of time.
Csikszentmihalyi tries to find out if there is something in common between the experiences that people, independent of their profession, find meaningful. And by seeking to identify that which is common to these diverse experiences, Csikszentmihalyi was after a general recipe for happiness, a recipe that could work just as well for the factory foreman as it does for the make-up artist. This is how Csikszentmihalyi develops the theory of optimal experience, which he calls Flow. He found that flow experiences are characterized by certain common features:
1. Perception of time - paradoxically, time appears to both slow down and speed up when experiencing flow.
2. Lack of self-consciousness - when experiencing flow, people report being so absorbed in the activity that they do not have any left-over attentional capacity to evaluate how well—or poorly—they are performing the activity.
3. Intense concentration - when experiencing flow, people report being acutely focused on the task at hand.
Chances are, you were able to relate to all three features of flow. This is because you, like most others, have experienced flow. Flow suggests that flow isn’t the prerogative of one person or profession. Flow is available to all. Flow increases our level of happiness, because:
1. flow experiences are enjoyable in the moment;
2. it increases competence;
3. it has the potential to enhance not just our own happiness, but also the happiness of others around us.
There are a number of things you can do right now to get to the flow more often in your life. The first and obvious thing is to go back to some of your hobbies. What would be more important is to experience flow in your workplace. To achieve this, you should find:
1. What gives you pleasure?
2. What you are really good at?
3. What the world needs?
Then you should try to include these things in your work. The 2nd Happiness Exercise – Expressing GratitudeIntroduction
Our study showed that gratitude boosts happiness for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it lowers the need for superiority. This exercise involves showing gratitude to a person who has had a positive influence in your life.Goal
To help you assess the impact of expressing gratitude on your happiness levels.Steps
In this exercise you will have to write a gratitude letter, following these four steps:
1. Think of someone who had a positive influence on your life. This person could be someone from your past (e.g., teacher, mentor) or present (e.g., friend, spouse). It is ideal to think of someone who is still alive. If you prefer to write your letter to someone who has passed on, that is fine too, but then, you will need to read the letter to someone who knew this person.
2. Think of all the reasons why this person had a positive influence in your life and then type out your thoughts in the space below in the form of a letter. Make this a relatively longish letter, but not too long. You should aim to write three or four paragraphs.
Note: It is best to avoid saying anything that has a chance of being construed as negative. So, avoid statements like “Even though you aren’t a great-looking person, you never let that get you down.”
3. If the person to whom you wrote the letter is still alive, read your letter out loud to him or her. You could do this either face-to-face (preferred) or over the telephone (or other means—like Skype).
If the recipient has passed on, or is not in a position to receive your letter, read or e-mail the letter to the recipient you identified earlier—someone who knows the person you wish to thank.
4. The last step involves reflecting on how you felt at various stages in this exercise:
a. When writing the letter,
b. When conveying it to the recipient,
c. When waiting for the response, and finally,
d. After receiving the response.