The little 46-second video below illustrates perfectly one of the chapters of Self-Help Stuff That Works called We've Been Duped. It represents the human tendency to become greedy, to want more than we have, and to feel unhappy about what we "lack."
What do you think you lack? What do you feel would make you happy if you attained it? Do you sometimes feel you're pushing yourself mindlessly toward your goal, like a frantic rat in a race for the cheese, never really satisfied no matter what you accomplish?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not into navel-gazing. I think it's important to have goals. A person with a goal can be much happier than a person with no goals. But pursuing goals can also make you miserable. It all depends on how you do it.
For a goal to improve your mood, it needs to be something you want rather than something you feel you should do. And you need to refresh your desire for the goal periodically. Since goals take awhile to achieve, it is easy for your clear and sincere desire for the goal to deteriorate into a dead feeling of urgently going through the motions but never getting there, and of always looking to some future attainment to make you happy.
It is completely natural to start out feeling enthusiastic about a new goal but then over time find yourself postponing your happiness in the present — and in a sense, trading it for the promise of a happy time in the future. It is natural to make yourself miserable to be happy.
How can you avoid getting caught in the rat race? The first and most important thing you can do is catch yourself losing your happiness, and then reminding yourself you don't need much to be happy. (Read more about that here.)
You'll have to remind yourself again and again throughout your life. Many times in your life you will "come to." You'll wake up and realize you've been "running on automatic," just going through the motions, driving yourself to accomplish one thing after another all day long, feeling you "must" do all those things, without ever even thinking or remembering that a long time ago you actually wanted to. You don't feel alive any more.
When you notice you don't feel alive, remind yourself you don't have to achieve any particular goal to be happy. You can even give up on the goal if you like. You don't have to accomplish it. (Read more about that here.) These are things you have to remind yourself of, because although you might know this right now, you will forget. You might even forget by tomorrow, and feel unhappy.
Another great way to prevent yourself from the misery of your own built-in (and perfectly natural) greediness is to use the comparison principle. Change what you're comparing your own life to.
If you keep comparing your situation to something better, you'll be unsatisfied and driven to run the rat race until you drop. If you compare your situation to something worse, it makes you feel better, puts you in a better mood, relaxes you, and makes you feel more content.
You can re-compare your life to anything you want any time you want, and it will always change the way you feel. The comparison technique will never wear out.
Anyway, ponder these imponderables while you watch the video: Rat Race.
Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.