If You’re So Smart, Why aren’t You Happy? Seriously.

If You’re So Smart, Why aren’t You Happy? Seriously.
If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Happy?

If YOU’RE SO SMART, WHY AREN’T YOU HAPPY? Portfolio│$28.00│ISBN: 978‐1101980736 │Pub Date: April 26, 2016

Fifteen years after getting his MBA, Raj Raghunathan spent some time with his old classmates where he noticed that though they’d all done well, there didn’t appear to be much correlation between their academic accomplishments and career success. What Raj found even more curious was the greater the career success, the more unhappy, out of shape, harried and distracted his friends were.

In his book “If You’re So Smart, Why aren’t You Happy?,” Raj sets out to find an answer to this problem: why are so many of the smartest, brightest, most successful people profoundly unhappy? He studied happiness not just of students and business people, but also stay‐at‐home‐parents, lawyers, and artists, among others.

He explored the seven most common inclinations that successful people need to overcome, and the seven habits they should have adopted instead. Several of them are:

• Setting internal goals turns out better than aiming for superiority in the long run
• Trusting everyone makes life easier even when trusting no one has always produced good results
• Believing you can think your way out of emotional problems can keep you from solving them
• Appreciating uncertainty, rather than seeking full control of outcomes, is necessary for happiness

Raj Raghunathan, PhD, is Professor at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, where he relies on themes from psychology, behavioral sciences, decision theory and marketing to explain consumption behavior. He is a contributor to Psychology Today and teaches one of the most popular classes on Coursera on the topic of happiness. He serves on the editorial board of Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing, and Journal of Consumer Psychology. He is also one of the fourteen faculty members of Whole Foods founder John Mackey’s Academy of Conscious Leadership.

Below is a brief interview with him:

Raj RaghunathanSmart people tend to overanalyze things, and this seems not to be working in attaining happiness. Please explain.

The idea is that, sometimes, our gut has information on what we need to do to be happy. So, for example, there was this study in which participants were asked to choose a poster.

One set of participants was asked to pick a poster that they liked, without thinking too much about it. Another set was asked to think long and hard about which poster they wanted.

Then, the satisfaction levels of both sets of participants was tracked over time. It turned out that the former group–the ones who didn’t think about which poster to choose, but chose one based on their gut instinct–were far happier.

What this, and several other findings like it, suggest is that we are often better off not overthinking or overanalyzing things before making our choices, particularly in contexts in which what we are looking for is an emotional benefit.

The mindsets of abundance and scarcity have their own advantages and disadvantages. How can abundance mindset particularly apply in creating happiness? Is it really that simple, considering we do need scarcity mindset in the evolution process?

In general, operating from a mindset of abundance is better for happiness. That is, if you feel that you have everything, indeed, more than everything, you need, you are likely to be happier than if you feel that you are lacking. However, what’s also true is that, in some contexts —such as poverty-struck zones or war zones– you are more likely to survive if you operate form a scarcity mindset.

This explains why the scarcity mindset may be a more natural mindset for many of us: for the vast majority of our evolution as a species, we have lived in times of scarcity. Food, safety, comforts, etc. were all scarce. The relative safety and comfort that characterizes the lives of the smart-and-successful among us, particularly in developed nations, is really a new thing for us. That’s why, although we live in a context of abundance, our reptilian brain can’t help but think in terms of scarcity.

Adopting abundance mindset doesn’t seem to remove insecurities and worries, just like in most people’s lives. Please advise how people can retain abundance mindset without experiencing other bouts of insecurities and worries. Is it possible, actually?

If you truly adopted the abundance mindset, you wouldn’t feel insecure and worried. I think what you are suggesting is this: even if one were to perceive a sense of abundance, in reality, one’s life may be characterized by scarcity.

If that’s what you mean here, allow me to pose a thought experiment to you. Imagine that you are an average human being, say, 2500 years back–living on a savannah or a cave somewhere in the wilderness. Or imagine that you are living as a peasant or a carpenter in the middle ages 500 years ago. How abundant would you characterize your life to be? Remember that you would likely have to work hard–really hard–to merely make ends meet in these contexts.

Now imagine that someone described to you (2500 years or 500 years ago) your current life. That is, someone asked you to imagine living a life in which you had absolutely no problems getting 3 square meals a day, living in a temperature controlled environment and in a context in which you had absolutely no danger of animals or marauding tribes attaching you. How abundant would your alter-ego living 2500 or 500 years back characterize such a life?

This thought-experiment shows that we are actually living an extremely abundant life. And yet, most of us do not feel as abundant as we ought to. In other words, whether you feel abundant or not is really up to you. If you choose to focus on your insecurities and fears, you will feel that your life is not abundant. And no one can convince you that your life is, in fact, abundant. On the other hand, even a relatively poor person (e.g., a middle class American) can “afford” to feel abundant in present times–since he/she will not want for basic necessities.

And if you do manage to feel that sense of abundance (even if you are not the richest person around in terms of material wealth), you are likely to not just feel happy, but also be successful.

As someone told me recently, “some of the poorest people are those with the greatest wealth.”

Image Credit: Pixabay

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