We all want to feel happy and good all the time. To be in our element, riding the wave of success, and freedom, and wealth, and love. So, we seek experiences that give us those feelings. Nevertheless, there is this paradoxical thing I’ve recently read about human happiness which is “the act of trying to have a positive experience is in itself a negative experience.”
On the other hand, accepting pain, and suffering, and struggle, is in itself a positive experience, because it is liberating. And yet, we are constantly chasing after highs to cover up the pain that life causes. That is through partying, having multiple partners, and the excitement that comes with starting a new job every now and again. In the long run, though, this strategy backfires.
The Backwards Law
Imagine you are in a quicksand. If you panic and begin to struggle, the quicker you are going to sink in it.
The Backwards Law, however, suggests a similar concept: That the harder you try to do something, the less likely you are to succeed. Put in the context of our topic, it would mean that the happier you try to be, the less happy you will actually be.
In one study, it’s been discovered that the more we put an emphasis on happiness, the less frequent positive emotions we will experience. That is, we have a less psychological well-being, which then reflects on our self-esteem, our relationships with others, meaning and purpose in life, and our ability to cope with life’s challenges. In other words, the more you put a priority on being happy, the more you try to be happy, and organize your life around it, the less happy you end up.
The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make. The more you desperately want to be sexy and desired, the uglier you come to see yourself, regardless of your actual physical appearance. The more you desperately want to be happy and loved, the lonelier and more afraid you become, regardless of those who surround you. The more you want to be spiritually enlightened, the more self-centered and shallow you become in trying to get there. – Mark Manson
The Backwards Law was invented by Alan Watts, and it states that the more you pursue something, the more anxious and less satisfied you become, because as Mark Manson writes on his blog:
Pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.
I had a friend who had put an emphasis on being happy and that led her to experiencing less frequent positive emotions and less satisfaction with her life, although she believed she was the happiest person on Earth. That drove her to all kinds of overcompensations, and later on I discovered she began taking drugs.
That must be telling us something. That the constant desire to be happy is making us miserable and short-cutting our way to feeling good, while avoiding pain and suffering, which are in fact inevitable parts of our personal growth and psychological well-being, is a losing long-term strategy.
For so many of us, there is a selfish type of happiness out there. Which means, that happiness and satisfaction feels just as real, although it’s a temporary rush of happy chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins due to focusing on things like drugs, sex, cheating, or trying to satisfy our fragile egos and bolster our self-esteem with all kinds of shiny things.
However, if we can just be ourselves, and we have a real message to give people, you know, something authentic, and then we can express that, our values, individualism, and pass our knowledge, understanding, and vision on to others in a unique and interesting way. As well as to establish a more mature relationship with our “dark side” so that we are much more able to handle it, we could possibly come a little closer to that mysterious thing called “Happiness.”