As you know on of my focuses is “execution,” and I thought if I am going to be executing I might as well be happy. So when I saw a book titled, “The Five Thieves of Happiness,” I had to pick it up! Author, John Izzo PhD, came up with a timely book for timely times. I love books that break down complicated topics into five, or less, steps. However, I did find it to be a tough read. He had some excellent themes on what sabotages our happiness, but I found it to be too wordy, with many irrelevant (to me) examples. In that spirit, I decided I would take the content and convert it into something that resonates with me, an entrepreneur and business (aesthetic practice) owner.
So what are the five thieves of happiness? Control, Conceit, Coveting, Consumption, and Comfort.
What I found for me is that everyone most likely has a differing saboteur of his or her happiness. For me, since I’m sure I have some variation of OCD, it is control. For you may find it’s coveting or consumption. I would pick the biggest culprit, and start to become aware of its impact in both your personal and business life. Being aware is the first step in getting better, then move to working on changing that behavior.
This one hit a chord with me, since I love everything in order and in its place. Yeah, I’m the guy who sorts out his work clothes the night before, likes everything in its place, and doesn’t like change. So when I read that “control” can impact your happiness, I certainly took notice.
The premise here is that our desire to have life be other than it is, is the cause of much of our unhappiness. There are times that I wish I was that “go with the flow” guy, but I’m not. I’m always on, I’m always thinking, and I’m always aware. In many ways this is a good thing, however, there are times when it’s certainly a curse.
As I was reading this chapter, I couldn’t help but think back to Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We can only control how we respond, we cannot control what is. His example is that you can only control the space between when the stimulus occurs and your response.
If we focus on only what we can control, and not desire to control others or the situations we find ourselves in, we are on our way to happiness! One quote from the book stands out in this chapter, and that is “focusing on our actions brings happiness; focusing on the result of our actions brings unhappiness.”
In summary, if you stay in the present, and understand you cannot control others or the situation, you will have a much happier life!
I love this one; another name for conceit is ego, which is a word that connects with me. If you like everything to revolve around you, and you are more important than others, “Houston you have a happiness problem!” The author gets into quantum physics, and how we are all interconnected and actually “one”. But, I think that is way too complicated, let’s keep it simple–keep your ego in check! Having an ego is important, and we all need the confidence that our ego will provide us, but moderation is the key here. Too much ego is a bad thing.
I find this simple example helpful in seeing how happiness is tied with our ego: do you like receiving gifts or giving gifts? I think most people get more joy in giving than receiving. When you give, you get happiness back!
If you spend too much time focusing on you, what’s important to you, and base your happiness on how you feel, happiness will elude you! I’m sorry, but it’s not about you!
I don’t think I have an over-inflated ego, I’m sure others may disagree, but I don’t think this is a big drain of my happiness. I like to keep the golden rule in mind, “do unto others, as you wish they would do unto you.” If you are always the center of attention, this may give you short-term happiness, but it will drain you and others around you.
I love this quote from the book, “the ironic thing about happiness is when you are seeking it for yourself, it eludes you, but when you look up and serve something bigger than yourself, happiness finds you.”
In summary, be a good employer, friend, spouse, parent, neighbor, employee; follow the golden rule, and when you focus on helping others, good things will come to you. In one word: “Karma.”
I can certainly see how a focus on others and things you really can’t control would cause unhappiness. If you want to “keep up with the Jones’s,” will you ever be happy? Deep down, we all know that the answer is no.
How many of you got your dream car, only to think the following day, of another car you would like even better. I know when I bought my dream car, a nero black Maserati; the build-up, the saving, the anticipation of the purchase was the best part. Once I had that beauty in my garage, it was like, ok, what’s next? A Ferrari (+$250k), Lamborghini (+350k), Bugatti Veyron (+$2m)? Fortunately, that midlife crisis is over, and with it the desire for excess. Everyone has had some purchase, where they realized afterward, that the happiness was short lived, maybe for you it was that Prada bag, or the big fancy house.
When you are always focusing on others, you miss a lot of life, and it will challenge your ability to be grateful. The author also recommends a practice I currently do, and that is daily journaling of things you are grateful. Whether it will be a journal of your life, thoughts, dreams or only a gratitude journal, you will certainly help reprogram your brain into reminding it and appreciating what you have now.
A stand-out quote for me that summarizes coveting was “when we allow our life to be about comparison with others, we soon find ourselves in an endless search for happiness we’ll never find.”
When you finally understand that the grass is not greener on the other side; it’s green where you water it, and only when you choose to water it! Make a point of watering your grass! Don’t base your happiness on having what others have, focus on living a life that you want!
This thief is based on our perception that what we need to be happy is not within us, but outside. It’s external, so we need to go and get it. This thief can tie in with coveting, since we see others who have what we want, happiness, so we must need what they have. However, you all know someone who appeared to have it all, then all of a sudden, they are getting a divorce, or have a breakdown. Deep down, we all know that happiness doesn’t come from external things, but sometimes we think of this as a quick fix or a silver bullet: if I have “that,” then I will be happy!
A good reminder of this is that there are people, who appear not to have much, but are very content. I saw this firsthand when I visited the countryside of India, where there was no running water, no gas cooktops, washing machines, no marble floors in most homes. The people wanted nothing (unlike the city), they were friendly and seemed very happy.
If you think you will be happier with more money, a better job title, more Facebook friends, a bigger house, a nicer car: if you haven’t found out already, this will not make you happy. Sure, you may be happy for a while, but like a drug, it fades quickly, and you are then looking for the next “happiness high.”
Of course, many advertisers target our lack of happiness in the media messages we see daily. Think about it, if you don’t use this deodorant, you will not be “fresh and clean,” who doesn’t want to be “fresh and clean!” Is it really that much better than the Costco Kirkland brand? Well, if you want to be happy, you need to buy our brand! The same goes for cars, soft drinks, phones, and pretty much every consumer product.
This chapter also covers love. This is certainly a big topic as many people do a lot of wild things to get others to love them. Whether it’s attracting a prospective mate; encouraging your teenage children to be your friend; impressing your co-workers, your boss, or friends, we want people to love us. We innately do a lot of things to garner love from others, thinking it will make us happy. The fact is you can’t love others, until you love yourself. This is a pretty deep topic, and you may want to check out Byron Katies’ book, “Loving What Is” (which is also a good book if you are still searching for happiness and have external stresses).
This passage from the book does a good job of summarizing how to battle consumption: “Contentment, the decision to accept things as they are at the very moment, is really a choice not to be “unhappy.” Whenever I find myself feeling unhappy, I repeat to myself, I choose contentment.”
Be mindful, that external things and/or people don’t determine whether you are happy or not, it’s all you! You can only find happiness from within, so stop looking for it, you already have it!
I’m going to be honest: I had a hard time with this one. The author’s premise is that people are stimulated by change and getting out of their comfort zone. Don’t be comfortable, get out, do something different, and you will find happiness. I don’t know, I like being comfortable, it makes me happy. Just chilling with a glass of good wine and a book on the patio is pure bliss for me. However, we are warned, “at first glance it may even appear as a source of happiness rather than a barrier to it.”
The author goes on to say “The obvious way comfort is a thief is that because our brains are excited by change, much of our happiness comes from having new experiences, facing and solving new challenges, and learning new skills. Routine is deadening to the human soul.”
Now maybe it’s because I like order, and have some OCD tendencies, but for me, I had to take the theme of comfort, and go in a different direction. What if the lack of comfort causes us unhappiness? It’s nice to have a place where you are not judged, and can just relax. Whether that is your present home, your childhood home, summer cabin, or a special getaway place.
Taking it one step further, I think you also need a place to recharge your batteries, and having a special place to do so, will most certainly move you to a place of happiness. Maybe it’s your summer cabin, a special hike, or a particular place. For me, I like to recharge in Sedona, Arizona, the red rocks are nothing short of breathtaking and energizing. I like to spend a couple of days there every quarter, where I review my past accomplishments and plan out my future, this makes me happy (even if I’m applying a bit of “control” to do so). I find this type of comfort actually stimulates my brain, and some of the best, most creative ideas came from my comfortable downtime.
I get the author’s point that you should be out trying new things every week, but I think depending on your personality, it could help or hinder your happiness. I think back to Susan Cain’s book “Quiet.” For those introverts out there, doing new things every week may the farthest thing from comfortable! However, I also agree, when you try something new, maybe you will find something you will like, a new hobby or activity, and that will certainly make you happy!
In The End…
“The Five Thieves of Happiness,” was a great book, you should read the entire book if you are struggling with happiness. This book helps you find your “thief.” We are all different, and if you are reading this article, then you probably have something that is preventing you from feeling happy, look to see if you one of these thieves is stopping you: control, conceit, coveting, consumption and/or comfort.