The 4th Happiness “Sin”: Being Overly Control-Seeking
The need for control that we experience originates from our intolerance towards the uncertainty, with which human life is filled. This is what research shows. To deal with the fear of uncertainty, we seek different ways to gain more control, such as we need to know that our decisions are right or to demonstrate over-confidence. The need for control is also manifested by the illusion of control embodied in the idea that we believe in having greater control over the results than we really have.
Generally, seeking control is a good thing—but only up to a point. Studies show that those with a higher need for control set loftier goals and also tend to achieve more. But what’s also been found is that being too control-seeking—for example, constantly seeking to make things better, or obsessing about achieving outcomes—isn’t a good thing. In other words, there seems to be a tipping point of control-seeking beyond which it lowers happiness levels.
There are several interesting reasons why being overly control-seeking lowers happiness. Here are some of them:
• Psychological reactance, which is the term psychologists use to refer to the desire to do the things we are proscribed, explains why being overly controlling of others is not a good idea. When you seek to control others, they exhibit psychological reactance. This is why, in relationships, you can either have control over others, or you can have their love.
• A related reason why being overly controlling of others lowers happiness is that it results in what David McClelland—the well-known motivational psychologist—calls, “Power Stress,” which the tendency to get angry and frustrated when others don’t behave like you want them to.
• Because of the inherent insecurity of life, the desire for over-control over outcomes is equivalent to the frustration of disappointment. The results of a number of studies confirm this.
It is important to make the difference between the desire for achievement and the over-control. Research shows that setting goals increases happiness. You cross the line into being overly control-seeking when you become obsessed about achieving the desired outcomes. That is, you are overly controlling when the desire to achieve outcomes controls you, rather than you being in control of the desire to achieve outcomes.
4th Habit of the Highly Happy: the Need for Internal Control
Researchers have long known that our thoughts and imaginations have a powerful influence over our feelings. What does this mean – that by merely changing the content of our thoughts, we could control our feelings.
Imagine another situation. You are in an unfamiliar city with just two hours to catch a flight back home, and the bus for which you have been waiting for over 30 minutes hasn’t show up and there don’t seem to be any taxis in the vicinity. In such situations—situations in which you feel frazzled—it would clearly useful to control your thoughts and feelings. Developing this ability, which we could call „internal control“, instead of looking for external control over people and situations is a very powerful instrument for everyone who wants to be happy.
Developing internal control means also taking personal responsibility for your own happiness, which means never blaming someone else or the circumstances for how you feelInternal control – how can we achieve it?
Developing internal control is similar to building muscle. It happens by taking on challenges that are commensurate with your current abilities, step by step and with persistence.Taking internal control by exercising some simple emotion regulation tactics:
• One such tactic is “emotion labeling.” This tactic literally involves coming up with a label to describe what you are feeling, for example, telling yourself “I am feeling angry” when you experience anger. Findings show that merely labeling your feelings lowers its intensity.
• Another tactic is “attention deployment,” which involves directing attention away from the things that trigger the negative feelings and towards things that trigger positive ones.
• The final tactic is cognitive reappraisal. This strategy involves re-interpreting the negative situation so as to feel better about it. Say, you are feeling stressed out about an impending meeting. In this situation, you could tell yourself that, far from feeling anxious, you should feel blessed that your work doesn’t involve meaningless menial labor.
The 4th Happiness Exercise – Schedule-Partner Exercise
Outside of having a great social life, leading a healthy lifestyle is perhaps the single biggest thing you could do to boost your happiness levels. Leading a healthier lifestyle will also give you greater internal control.Goal
The exercise is designed to help you lead a healthier lifestyle than you currently do, specifically, “eat right,” “move more,” and “sleep better.”Steps
1. The first step involves coming up with a healthy lifestyle plan. Consider changes that you could make to lead a healthier lifestyle and write down at least three items for each of the three categories (eating right, moving more, and sleeping better).Eating right
• Put unhealthy items (e.g., potato chips) in hard-to-reach places
• Replace larger plates or bowls with smaller ones (if you are overweight).
• If you often eat out, carry a bag of healthy snacks with you
• Get a pedometer and maintain a record of how much you have walked each day.
• Exercise (doesn’t need to be intense) for twenty minutes to start the day off.
• Reduce the amount of time spent sitting (e.g., on bus rides, choose to stand).
• Minimize sources of artificial light (e.g., TV, iPad) in bedroom.
• Follow regular sleep schedule (e.g., go to bed at 10 p.m. every night and wake up no earlier than 6 a.m.)
• Take a warm shower thirty minutes before sleep.
2. This step involves identifying a “schedule-partner”—someone who will remind and motivate you over the next 4 weeks, to stick to your respective healthy lifestyle plans.
3. During the third stage, you have to answer the following three questions in writing: What 3 healthy lifestyle changes have you made in each of the three categories (eating right, moving and sleeping better)? How exactly did you follow your plan? Why - or why not? Was this exercise helpful? Why - or why not?