The Perfect Formula for Unhappiness
Imagine that you were tasked with the dark job of creating a formula or an equation for unhappiness. X plus Y plus Z = U (Unhappiness). What would X, Y, and Z be? And what if the task also involved coming up with a formula for bad parenting?
This is a part three of a multi-part series for UPLIFT FAMILIES by Richard and Linda Eyre.
For part one click here
For part two click here
For part three click here
The Key Attitudes of Parenting Part 4
If you were analytical about it, you might start by looking for the things that contribute most obviously and predictably to unhappiness (and that also undermine families)—stress, anxiety, worry, feelings of inadequacy, irritation, business and overwork, loneliness, toxic relationships, isolation,
But adding all those things up creates too long a formula—you are looking for a more basic equation, so you begin looking for the source or cause of all of these forms of unhappiness. What makes us susceptible to them? What lets them into our lives? What allows them to grab us?
The formula has to be something within us, some mental back door that lets unhappiness in, that makes our natural state of joy precarious and easy to topple. This needs to be a fundamental formula—the most basic elements which work in a simple equation. Three things, three factors, three parts of us that let in and stir up and catalyze all the fears, feelings, fatigues, and frustrations that compose unhappiness.
The most basic things we have are our desires and attitudes and if these are conducive to all those italicized in the second paragraph above, then we are getting close to the simple formula for unhappiness that we have been tasked to find.
What pursuit is more conducive to frustration and irritation than trying to Control everything and everyone and not realizing that most things and people can’t and shouldn’t be controlled?
What goal is more likely to lead to anxiety and feelings of inadequacy than Ownership and the constant inclination to compare and compete on everything?
And what approach links so closely to loneliness and isolation than insisting that you don’t need others and are completely Independent.
Simple equation: C+O+I=U. Attitudes of Control, Ownership, and Independence equal Unhappiness (and equal bad parenting.)
Lets call those three attitudes, collectively, CO&I. Pursuing CO&I opens the way to all the italicized words above which are the building blocks of unhappiness and the blockers of joy.
The media and the Internet lead us to the unexamined assumption that owning more and better things will make us happier, that controlling more of our lives and being more independent and less needful of others will give us more happiness. With some pondering, though, we know that those implied and assumed connections are false, and that the real connections to happiness lie more with things like commitment, relationships, interdependence, sharing, delayed gratification, appreciation, service, and faith.
Turning it around inside our heads
Essentially, there are two ways to pursue happiness in this world. One is to adopt the measurements of the society around us and kill ourselves competing with everyone else to own more, to control more, and to need others less. These "measure of success" that we so often judge by, and are judged by, is CO&I and it seems to be held up in front of us everywhere we look as the goal, as the standard, as the thing will make us happy, as the thing that everyone should want—and want—and want.
The other way to pursue happiness is to change the definition of what it is. If we consciously reject the measurements of CO&I by reminding ourselves that while they may be useful economic concepts, they are spiritual lies, and if we re-define happiness as the receiving of blessings, guidance, and the gifts of relationships, we will realize that we already have all that we need to be happy, and we will begin to focus more on faith, gratitude, and love.
Attitudes are remarkable things. They determine much of our success, our capacity, and our happiness. If we have attitudes that are negative or that cause us to prioritize the wrong things, or that are based on false premises, they undermine us and hold us back and make us unhappy. If we can switch to attitudes of truth, light, and spirituality, we can increase our ability to do well in the things that matter most and at the same time become much happier people.
What we must strive to do is to replace three worldly, false and happiness-undermining attitudes with three spiritual, true and happiness-promoting attitudes. If we want to get rid of the attitudes of Control, Ownership, and Independence, we need to replace them with attitudes of Serendipity, Stewardship, and Synergicity. (Replace CO&I with SSS)
These attitudes can become the basic paradigms in which we see and live our lives.
A “paradigm” is a viewpoint or inner framework for what we think is reality. It’s a word that will become much more important in the other side of this book. The media and the web and all their appearances often lead us to false paradigms, to a collection of unrealistic and incorrect views of reality, assumed connections, and wrong world-views. And the problem is that the false paradigms themselves becomes the biggest deceivers of all. Because once our view or perspective of something is accepted, even subconsciously, it becomes a filter through which we observe and interpret everything else.
False paradigms don't become true when we accept them, but they do become highly influential of our lives, our behavior, our priorities, and our thoughts. Once I accept the paradigm that "I would be happier if I owned more stuff and better stuff" my actions and my whole thought process begins to be governed by the pursuit of more and better stuff. Once I accept the paradigm that "cool people are independent and in control,” I start criticizing myself for needing and being dependent on others or for not being able to control my life well enough to get everything checked off my list every day.
If you think the world is flat, you are going to make some bad navigation decisions and become increasingly frustrated. If you think happiness depends on Control, Ownership, and Independence, you are going to make some bad prioritizing decisions and become increasingly frustrated. Once you correct your paradigm to "round" you will get back on course for your nautical destination. Once you shift your paradigm from CO&I to the Three Alternatives, you will get back on course to your destination of a happy life
The original goal of our writing on this subject was simply to help people be happier. But there was an unexpected bonus: The three attitudes that lead to more happiness turn out to also be the three attitudes that make us better parents.
A Serendipity parent sees and listens to a child more carefully and helps in ways that a control parent can never do, a Stewardship parent respects a child and guides in inspired ways that an ownership parent can never know, and a Synergicity parent learns to work with others and find help in places that an independent parent can never imagine.
TWO WAYS TO LIVE, AND THINK, AND THANK
Living, Type A
Be pro-active, be in charge, be self-confident,
Take control of your life.
Depend on yourself and go get the things you want.
Act, don’t react.
Plan your work, then work your plan.
Only you can know what you want,
And only you can decide what your life will be.
Set your goals, make your plans, and let no one
Get in their way.
Cultivate strength and knowledge,
For these are the differences between mere man and Maker.
View your life as a series of competitions that you can win,
And as an ongoing effort to prove yourself,
And rise above your rivals.
Understand that achievements are life’s measure,
And wrap your identity in positions and possessions.
Acquire, Achieve, Accumulate, Accomplish, Attain!
Let these “W&P” phrases be your guide:
Work and Plan
Will and Purpose
Winning and Pride
Wealth and Power
Seek and develop your capacity
for CONTROL of circumstances and surroundings
and of those you need to help you reach your goals,
for OWNERSHIP and obtaining the good things of this world, and
for INDEPENDENCE and needing no one but yourself.
Living, Type B
Be humble and ask questions, particularly the question Why.
Seek guidance, look for magic and higher power,
And learn to recognize it and relish it.
Strive to understand a greater plan and seek its will—
The higher will that only knows what is best for your eternal Soul.
Be aware of spiritual nudges and impressions,
Notice the needs of those around you,
And try never to win at someone else’s expense.
Cultivate awareness and perspective.
For these are the differences between man and Maker.
View your life as a series of opportunities to serve,
And an adventure in discovering
Who you truly are and what you can become.
Understand that relationships are life’s measure,
And wrap your identity in your family.
Model your life after a different set of W&P words:
Watch and Pray
Wander and Ponder
Wonder and Probe
Worship and Praise
Waken and Perceive
Wait and Procrastinate (selectively)
Width and Perspective
Wisdom and Peace
The Keys to Happiness (and to good parenting)
Most “happiness literature” seems to agree that there are at least ten times or kinds of experiences when we are most aware of being happy:
- When we are feeling genuine gratitude. Happiness equates almost perfectly with thankfulness. In fact, in another book I wrote, “Gratitude is not the path to happiness, gratitude IS happiness in its most obtainable form.”*
- When we have those little, unpredictable joy moments that just suddenly and unexpectedly happen to us. It could be a surprise or an epiphany or just a peaceful instant when an acute little stab of happiness hits us. Just as we become aware of it, it passes.
- When a wash or wave of joy envelops us on a particular occasion or in a certain situation—a wedding or a baptism, a graduation or a promotion, sometimes something as simple as a quiet evening at home or a family dinner when you look around the table and feel a penetrating happiness washing over you and it lasts more than a moment.*The Thankful Heart, Richard Eyre, 2016
- When we have an intense feeling of love. The intensity of the love we are feeling usually matches perfectly with the intensity of our joy.
- In the giving of service. When helping others, or extending service, we are likely to feel a distinct form of happiness.
- In association with adventure. While it might more accurately be called a “thrill” there is a connection between happiness and new experience, discovery or adventure
- When we are in nature or in touch and contact with the natural world
- When we are removed from the pressure, tension and anxiety connected with comparing ourselves and competing with each other and feeling overworked and out of balance.
- When we emerge from a crisis or dark time in our lives, and by contrast feel so happy that it is over or that we got through it.
- When our highest priority relationships are going well.
So, do your own little evaluation by thinking through your first impressions of how each of these ten happiness factors are impacted and affected by the usual CO&I Paradox and, alternatively, by the SSS Paradigm. Which lends itself best to our perceived happiness-moments, the rush and pressure of CO&I or the awareness and peace of SSS?
- Which is the best attitudinal atmosphere for gratitude, the I-deserve-it mentality of CO&I or the everything-is-a-gift viewpoint of SSS?
- Which paradigm gives us the most awareness and perspective of what is happening in and around us right now and is thus most likely to notice and embrace the little moments of joy—the hard charging, out-work my colleagues attitude of CO&I or the more reflective, more spontaneous paradigm of SSS?
- Which makes us most mindful or “present” and most receptive to the wash of joy at special occasions, the on-to-the-next-thing-in-my-world approach of CO&I or the openness and exceeded expectations of SSS?
- Which allows unselfish, unconditional love to flourish best, the walled-off, “me-ness” of CO&I or the empathy of SSS?
- Which paradigm prompts more desire and capacity for service to others, the self-centered focus of CO&I or the extra-centeredness of SSS.
- Which leads us more into the adventure and experience of the unknown, the conservative status quo of The Three Deceivers or the curious and courageous attitudes of The Three Alternatives? Which values and anticipates adventure and surprise; and which is threatened by them?
- Which is most likely to escape the work-world and notice and capture the beauty of the natural world, the to-do list driven-ness of CO&I or the pause-and-think-and-ask-why mantra of SSS?
- Which relaxes the pressure and stress, the prove-yourself-over-and-over approach of CO&I or the God’s-way-not-my-way sense of SSS?
- Which paradigm provides a wonderful, perspective-filled place to be in mentally when we are dealing with a difficult time or a life-crisis? Which allows us to feel less alone, more connected, and more resilient, and which is the fragile rug that can so quickly be pulled out from under us?
- Which paradigm strengthens relationships as the highest priority, and which paradox weakens them?
For a deeper look into each of the three new paradigms, Serendipity, Stewardship, and Synergicity, click the links at the top of this article to read the three earlier articles in this series. And then, if you still want more, go to https://familius.com/eyre-special and use the code UPLIFTFRIEND to get the full book for half price.
And remember the connection between happiness and good parenting. The happier you are, the better parent you will be.
By Richard and Linda Eyre
Note: This is the third in a series of four articles on “The Optimal Attitudes of Parenting.” The first, second and third articles can be seen here and here and here. All four articles are based on Richard Eyre’s new book The Happiness Paradox. To learn more, Uplift readers can visit https://familius.com/eyre-special with the access code UPLIFTFRIEND.
New York Times #1 Bestselling Authors Linda and Richard Eyre have seen their books sell in the millions and be translated into more than a dozen languages. Appearing on virtually every national talk show, including Oprah, Today, and CBS This Morning, the Eyres have also spoken and presented throughout the U.S. and in more than 60 countries. They invite you to follow them on Instagram @ RichardLindaEyre