It’s an unfortunate fact of life that evolution has shaped us to be more concerned with the negatives that happen to us than the positives. If there’s a choice to worry about a lion hiding in the grass, the human who worried survived. As a result, we’re predisposed to worry, be concerned about, and focus on the challenges we face instead of the opportunities. However, as humans, we’re gifted with conscious awareness and a rational mind that can sometimes grab the reins of our historic perspectives and shift them a bit.
Happiness and Burnout
Burnout is caused by a feeling of inefficacy. Those feelings flow more freely when you’re focused on the negative. It’s easier to feel like you’re not making enough progress when you’re focused on the setbacks instead of the opportunities. When you can refocus your attention on the things that make you happy and the things that are going well, you naturally feel as if you’re making more progress, you’re more effective, and life is better.
We tend to believe that we can compartmentalize our general mood and feelings into buckets and keep them from interfering with other areas of our lives. However, research shows that our emotions in one area of our life bleed into other areas without our knowledge. Stress reduces our creativity and our compassion for others – whether we’re aware of it or not.
Part of our happiness is defined by our genetics. There’s a predisposition to a certain happiness level – sort of like setting a thermostat on the wall. All things being equal, the heating and air conditioning will try to keep the temperatures set. However, we can light a fire in the fireplace – which isn’t under the thermostat’s control. While there are many ways to increase our happiness, two are particularly powerful: gratitude and savoring.
For most of us, meals are routine. We enjoy a good meal, and we don’t give it a second thought. Years after leaving home, children realize they took for granted what a great cook mom was. We become accustomed to goodness and fail to realize how good things are now. We can hold on to these things by making the conscious decision to catalog what we’re grateful for each day.
This might take the form of a gratitude journal, in which you write the things you’re grateful for each day. The key point isn’t the writing. The key point is to reflect on the day and recognize the good things. It’s easy to succumb to our biology and focus on the negative, but by focusing on the positives, the things that we’re grateful for, we can shift our general mood and level of happiness.
When we recognize that more good things happen than bad, we lift ourselves out of the swamps of unhappiness.
Recognizing the good things that are happening to us is a start, but unless you’re willing to dwell in them, they’ll still pass by too quickly. That’s where savoring comes in. Just like the idea of letting a forkful of a delicious meal sit on your tongue before chewing and swallowing, we can allow ourselves to experience the positive of the moment longer and more deeply before moving on.
Once you’ve built a habit of gratitude, you can apply it to your daily routine. Instead of waiting until the end of the day, you can become more able to recognize good things when they happen – and savor those moment. When someone holds a door for you, you can consider how the world is improving, how you’re a human worthy of respect and assistance. Just lingering in these thoughts for a few moments is enough.
With these two simple techniques, you can develop your happiness, and ultimately help keep yourself out of burnout.