There is an expectation that the more successful you are, the happier, healthier and productive you should be. After all, success makes you happy.
Or does it?
Well, it turns that the people who have it all aren’t necessarily happier than the average Joe. Just because they live in a luxurious palm-tree mansion in the Caribbean, take home a six-figure pay check, and hang out with cool, over-achieving friends doesn’t mean that they feel any better about themselves than you do.
Instagram pics of smiling models from luxury treats, and unconventional spa and wellness offers can be deceiving. As a result, much of what we think about happiness and wellbeing and wellbeing simply isn’t true.
Let’s look at some common misconceptions people have about wellbeing.
Misconception #1: The more you achieve, the happier you’ll feel.
For most of high school, I thought that I needed to get good grades in order to be happy. I was worried about failing, because I thought I would be miserable for the rest of my life, if I didn’t meet the expected standards.
Of course, as I learnt at university, this was far from true. It didn’t matter whether I barely scraped a pass or aced all my courses. Sure, it was nicer to do well. But a big fat 48% showed me that getting rubbish grades sucks in the short term – while didn’t actually change how happy I felt in the long run.
And with this experience, I find it easy to think that once I graduate from college, get my first job and move into my own apartment, I’ll finally find that ‘missing piece’ that is stopping from being 100% happy right now.
I’ve also seen this with my friends: we seem to think that we only need to jump through certain hoops, like getting 1000 followers on Instagram and spending our summers sipping Pina Coladas on Miami Beach, to finally find happiness.
And so, most of us are caught in this invisible rat race. Always striving for more, better, faster. We chase accomplishment after accomplishment, and when we hit a goal, we feel good for a while.
But the feeling never lasts. And so, we chase the next status symbol. From getting our first job to earning, 15€, 25€ or 50€ an hour.
It doesn’t matter what we accomplish – it’s never enough. And so, we start spinning the hamster wheel faster and faster. We put more and more pressure on ourselves and wonder why we continue to be unhappy.
But instead of mindlessly chasing achievement after achievement, you can turn things around.
If you keep yourself that you don’t do enough, you’ll never feel good. Instead, what you want to do is CHANGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS AND THOUGHTS surrounding happiness.
First, figure out why you need you to ‘accomplish something’. Where does that pressure to achieve come from?
Here are some prompts to help you uncover the invisible scripts that might be holding you back:
- I need to impress … to show that I’m worthy.
- I need to prove to … that I can do ….
- If I don’t accomplish this, people will think I’m a failure. They’ll judge me and won’t want to hang out with me.
- I don’t want people to think badly about me, but I’m worried I can never live up to their expectations.
- I need to make more money, buy a house and get my first car, so I can finally show that people were wrong to call me a loser.
As you can see, our desire to accomplish and impress often comes from a place of low self-confidence. Maybe we’ve had experiences as a child where we felt bad about what we did, because we saw that our parents, friends or teachers didn’t approve and judged us for not living up to their expectations.
In that case, there are two steps we can take to improve our wellbeing:
- Letting go of other people’s expectations
Our parents, friends and colleagues all have their own beliefs and value systems, based on which they see the world. These beliefs influence how they think people should, or ought to, act. For example, many people I know think that you should go to college and stick it out if you can, because getting a degree will give you a tremendous boost in your career. This is totally fine and legit belief to have, but maybe that belief just isn’t right for you, because going to college is taking a massive toll on your mental health and you’d much rather work than study. In that case, you are probably best of letting go of these foreign expectations and following the path that feels right to you – no matter what other people think.
- Redefining our self-worth and personal identity
Instead of building our self-worth and personal identity on our accomplishments, relationships or other external factors, we can learn to feel good and accept ourselves unconditionally. It means loving and appreciating ourselves for who we are, making the choices that make us happy, rather than conforming to our own, or other people’s expectations.
Misconception #2: Wellbeing is only about physical health
Another common misconception about wellbeing is that it’s all about your physical health.
So long as you eat a healthy diet, work out a few times a week, and take good care of your body, you should feel well, right?
Sadly, it’s not that simple.
Giving our body the nutrients and exercise it needs, is a good start. But true wellbeing goes much deeper than that.
We also need to look at our mental health. Do we have any thoughts, or emotions that stand in our way? Any past traumas waiting to be resolved?
Whenever we feel off, when we’re out of balance, it’s important to look at both our physical and emotional wellbeing.
Maybe we have certain beliefs that are more of a hindrance than a help. And overcoming these beliefs could have a transformative effect on how we feel about life.
For example, if you are frustrated with the ongoing restrictions, it doesn’t matter how many home workouts you do. You probably still feel trapped and isolated.
This is because working out in your home does not address your feeling of being stuck and alone. The only way you can improve is by changing how you feel about the situation.
This could be about looking at the situation from a different perspective. You might acknowledge that the restrictions actually aren’t that bad, because they give you the chance to get more comfortable with negative emotions like anger and boredom, and learn how to deal with them more effectively.
You could also change how you feel by taking a different, and appropriate action, to address that underlying feeling of being stuck and alone.
If you can leave your house during the day, use that time to explore your local area so you don’t feel stuck in one place all the time. Or schedule a virtual call and arrange socially distanced picnic in your local park. That way, you can keep important relationships going, and feel connected to friends and family despite living alone.
Mental health booster technique
Another powerful tool I’d like to share is the ‘5-Why Technique’. This technique can help you identify the root cause of a mental health issue, and is a great starting point if you want to solve problems where you feel stuck and don’t know what to do next.
The 5-Why Technique is very simple – all you need to do is start with a problem or issue that is bugging you, and then ask why five times to uncover the deeper issue, and find a solution.
Here’s the technique in action:
Suppose you’re annoyed that you’re not allowed to see you friends face-to-face.
So you’d start by asking: “Why does it annoy me that I can’t see my friends face-to-face?”
In response to this question, you might reply: “Because I think I deserve to see them, and I hate how the government encroaches upon my personal freedom.”
Then, you go one level deeper. Why do you hate how the government encroaches upon your freedom?
“Because I think they are violating my basic liberties and human rights.”
And another level deeper. Why is the problem?
“Because I value being able to choose whatever I want, and now I feel like my options are limited.”
This is interesting, because in that last sentence lies the solution to the problem this person is facing. It took us less than five times of asking ‘why’ to uncover that this person feels angry because their options have been restricted.
They may not realise it, but in every part of our lives we have limited options. We are restrained by what we think is possible, and what actually ends up working us. So what this person is really bothered by, is the fact that they don’t like any of the options available to them.
The easiest way to fix this, is by embracing one of the existing options and finding way to enjoy it, or seeing what other options may be available that this person had not previously considered. The latter approach could involve opening our mind up to more unconventional opportunities, like travelling to a different country together with your friends and enjoying laxer restrictions there.
Or if you’re tired and bored of MS Teams calls with your friends because you don’t have anything exciting to talk about, why don’t you play an online game or watch a movie together?
As you can see, especially in the present times, it is important to remain flexible and listen to what your body and mind actually need. Then, take the right actions or change your thoughts, to fix things.
Misconception #3: There’s a ‘quick fix’ for improving your mental health
To improve your mental health, you often need to change the way you see the world.
This is rarely an instant process. Instead, it usually takes a few weeks or months to see any long-term results.
Why is that the case?
Well, most problems take a while to manifest. For example, if you are now struggling with anxiety or depression, that usually isn’t something that hit you from one day to the next. It probably started as something small, a little problem lurking in the back of your mind, that has grown and grown until it became what it is today.
Over time, your mental health took a firmer grip on your life, and the more you resisted facing the issue, the stronger it became. Until one day, it was so visible that you could no longer ignore it.
So, if it took a few years before your wellbeing dropped so far that you’re reading this blog or seeking out professional help, why would you expect to solve your problem in less than an instant.
It’s absolutely possible to solve problems that quickly, but it’s not the norm.
Because improving your mental health means you need to dig deep into the suppressed emotions that are causing you to feel the way you do.
You can do this quickly, but sometimes you will prefer to take things slowly, and let the feelings you’ve suppressed come to the surface in a slower, more controlled manner.
Ultimately though, you need to open up, and allow yourself to feel the emotions that you bottled up all this time.
For example, you might have a terrible fear of heights and always avoided going near skyscrapers. If suddenly, you find out that your next job involves working on the 15th floor in central Manhattan, you can expect to face that fear and relive all the emotions on the first day that you take the elevator up to the office.
Only you’ve felt all those suppressed emotions, will they go away. But the more you hide from your feelings, engage in avoidance behaviours and stop the anxiety from coming through, the harder it becomes to improve your wellbeing in the long run.
Misconception #4: Mental health issues can’t go away
Much of the current medical treatment around wellbeing is centred around symptom management. Doctors encourage you to swallow pills in order to reduce your anxiety and manage your depression.
While medication can be valuable for accelerating treatment and improving your mental state in the short term, it rarely solves the underlying issues that led to anxiety, depressions and other problems in the first place.
Also, the recovery process for people who struggle with their mental health can be quite long, as you are left almost to your own devices to solve most of the problems you are facing.
Therefore, lots of people seem to think that if you have a mental health issue once, it will scar you and stay with you for life.
There are countless ways to both managing and curing the difficulties you experience, you just need to find a way that works for you.
Broadly, speaking any path you choose will requires you to follow two steps:
- Understanding the cause What is causing your anxiety/depression? What benefits do you have from your mental health issue? Why do you subconsciously want to have low levels of wellbeing?
- Eliminating the cause Find a strategy to overcome the reason & establish new modes of thinking & acting for your life.
Misconception #5: Counselling is the only way to boost your wellbeing
Counselling is definitely one of the best ways to boost your wellbeing, but that doesn’t mean it’s your only option.
There are a whole host of things you can do to improve how you feel about your body and mind on a daily basis. From eating healthier diet, and working out regularly to more spiritual practices like yoga and meditation, you can choose whatever habits and techniques work best for you.
Counselling, especially, cognitive behavioural therapy, is helpful to deal with traumatic experiences in your life. But if you can’t afford counselling or don’t feel comfortable speaking to a therapist, there are a lot of amazing self-help resources out of there, such as the book ‘The Journey’ by Brandon Bays, or the teachings of Mirzakarim Norbekov.
Also, keep in mind that wellbeing is dictated by both physical and mental factors. Good wellbeing involves looking after your mind, your heart and your body, so counselling alone is not necessarily going to be enough.
If your stress comes from drinking too much coffee every morning and worrying about the pessimistic news items in the daily paper, simply talking to a therapist probably won’t solve your issue. Instead, your best bet would be to take a step back, ditch the caffeine and stop following the news.
Ultimately, whatever path you choose, the most important thing is that you take an active role in improving your wellbeing. You can’t just sit around and wait for a counsellor to magically take away your problems, for medication to suppress them or for them to miraculously disappear overnight.
If you are struggling with an issue, it is your responsibility to take action. That is the only way you can learn from the experience and become a responsible and mature adult.
Misconception #6: If you are ‘good’ at wellbeing, it means you are happy all the time.
The final myth that I want to talk about today is the belief that good wellbeing means you will never be upset.
Our emotions change from one second to the next, so even if you feel comfortable with yourself and your life in general, you will have rough patches. There will be times when you get really angry and upset, and this totally natural.
Maybe it’s someone says something nasty to you, or you fail at something despite working hard on it, these experiences can be frustrating and it’s totally fine to feel bad about this.
Just don’t punish yourself if you find yourself feeling down. Instead, embrace the fact that your emotions can come and go. While you shouldn’t cling to negative emotions from the past – this does not mean you can’t experience negative emotions in the present.
You don’t need to feel great 100% of the time, because life simply isn’t perfect. Think about it, if you were happy all day, every day, you probably wouldn’t appreciate it. It is only the contrast between happiness, sadness, anger and the other emotions that makes our life so rich.
It’s the challenges we face every day that allow us to grow – and we can find strength in the setbacks, So no need to beat yourself up about things if you feel down.