Toxic mental habits

30 11 2014

Till now, we have touched upon many positive things which contribute to and boost happiness. In this post, we will consider a few mental habits, which adversely affect our well-being. In fact, they are toxic in nature and severely detriment happiness.

According to Dacher Keltner, the following constitute toxic mental habits:

  • Perfectionism
  • Materialism
  • Social Comparison
  • Maximizing
  • Frazzle – putting ourselves into a lifestyle that is overwhelming

It makes sense, right? I can almost see the heads nodding in agreement. ūüôā

Let us dwell a little on each one of them.

Perfectionism is trying to reach the ideal, to achieve the best in each and every endeavor. But of course, there is no thing called “perfect”. Chasing it will only be liken to pursuing a mirage. It’s impossible to derive any kind of satisfaction in the process. Continuously pushing your limits is usually accompanied by a lot of stress and results in severe discontent.

Materialism is another vice that refers to acute emphasis on material things. Under its influence, we tend to amass more and more material goods in view of the mislaid belief that they will make us happy. But, as research by Thomas Gilovich and others (an easy to read alternative here) suggests, people derive more happiness from experiences rather than material things. So, by focusing on wrong things, we are no way closer to what we want to achieve i.e., happiness, but rather moving farther away. Beware of how consumerism is affecting you.

We are social beings. It’s sometimes with amusement that I ponder on the ways “society”, which is nothing but the collection of us along with the rules we make to govern ourselves, controls and/or influences us. We have a deep rooted tendency to analyze, judge, make sense of things, establish hierarchies, and spot patterns. It is due to this ingrained impulse that we tend to compare ourselves with others. We have an unexplained urge to know where we stand with respect to our environment. Social comparison, especially with those above our level, will reduce self-perception.

Maximizing is a tendency to achieve the greatest amount of benefit or pleasure from anything. It requires considering all the alternatives/choices available, and evaluating them in order to arrive at the final decision. Needless to say, it involves lot of effort. Moreover, it is not as though maximizers are happier at the end of it all. In fact, maximizers are

  • more regretful after purchases
  • less satisfied with life
  • more depressed
  • less satisfied with success
  • less optimistic

Perfectionism and maximizing go hand in hand. It is very tempting for perfectionists to maximize.

“Having too many choices is a curse to our happiness.”

The alternative to maximizing is “satisficing”, which involves going with the first option that meets your set criteria. Satisficers do not consider all the choices. Satisficing doesn’t mean going with a sub-optimal solution. It just means a “good enough” solution that serves your purpose.

While maximizing is associated with unhappiness and less satisfaction, satisficing is related to happiness and more satisfaction. So, you can deduce that happy people and unhappy people follow different decision-making processes.

Happiness expert Dan Gilbert says, people are happier with irrevocable decisions. We all have what¬† he calls “psychological immune system”, which refers to our tendency to justify our choices and creates positive sentiment about them – but only when it’s perceived that the choice is complete and can’t be reversed. (Refer to the famous study of Monet paintings).¬† Listen to this absolutely wonderful TED talk by Dan Gilbert on Surprising Science of Happiness.

Frazzle is something which results from perfectionism, maximizing, and any other habits which will wear us out.

I myself am seriously prone to Perfectionism and Maximizing, while susceptible to a lesser degree to the rest of the toxic mental habits. Thanks to this new wisdom, I am beginning to notice their effects on the quality of my life. Realization is always the first step. But it should be followed by “action” to see results. It’s not easy but it’s definitely possible.

Even while we focus on improving positive emotions, it is important to curb these harmful mental habits for our own good.

Part 10 of Science of Happiness Series.

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4   Part 5    Part 6    Part 7    Part 8    Part 9




5 responses

30 11 2014

I really like your articles on Happiness. Keep up the good work

2 12 2014
Sashank Bhogu

Thanks for sharing these lessons on happiness.

9 12 2014
Perfectionism and me | Peek Inside My Mind

[…] perfectionist sucks your energy and actually robs you off of your happiness. Only during the “Science of Happiness” course did I realize how toxic maximizing and perfectionism are really are. Needless to say, […]

29 12 2014
Mindfulness and happiness | Peek Inside My Mind

[…] Part 1 ¬† ¬†Part 2 ¬† ¬†Part 3 ¬† ¬†Part 4 ¬† Part 5 ¬† ¬†Part 6 ¬† ¬†Part 7 ¬† ¬†Part 8¬† ¬† Part 9¬† ¬† Part 10 […]

25 04 2015
Happiness made easy | Peek Inside My Mind

[…] ¬† ¬†Part 2 ¬† ¬†Part 3 ¬† ¬†Part 4 ¬† Part 5 ¬† ¬†Part 6 ¬† ¬†Part 7 ¬† ¬†Part 8¬† ¬† Part 9¬† ¬† Part 10¬† ¬† Part […]

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