We often work harder to move up in our careers and make more money, rather than taking more time off and spending it with our family and friends. We are looking to move into a bigger place, even if it means increasing our commute times and spending more time in traffic. We try to get by on the short vacation times provided by our employers, rather than taking longer vacations. We are tempted to buy newer and more luxurious appliances, clothes, cars, watches, etc. forcing us to work even harder to afford them.
I felt trapped in the corporate world for a long time, because I just couldn’t see a way out of this cycle. I thought I really needed the bigger salary in order to afford my living expenses and to be able to save for the future. Somewhere in my mind I seemed to think that living in a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood and having more money to spend would make me happier. But the truth was, I wasn’t feeling happy. So I began to question what I really needed to be happy.
Why do we get caught up pursuing goals that essentially work against our own happiness? Economist Robert Frank has a simple explanation. This type of “conspicuous consumption” is about acquiring things that are visible to others and are seen as a sign of a person’s relative success. So we strive, work hard, and buy things in order to be seen as successful. And psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains that we have been shaped by evolution to win at the game of life by impressing others, gaining their admiration, and rising in relative rank. So we are actually conditioned to care about prestige, not happiness. As a result, we end up automatically pursuing goals that do not make us happy.
Once we are aware that some of our natural instincts may not be guiding us toward happiness, we can stop and look at some of the decisions we are making in our life. What are the things that are truly meaningful in your life and actually make you happy? Are you spending your time pursuing them or are you caught up in doing things because you feel like you “should” or “have to”, to feed your ego or to “look” better?
It took me a while to get out of “feeling trapped” in my corporate career. What really helped me was looking at my brother, who was living a much simpler life than I was. So I began to question what I thought I needed to be happy.
It took going against what society, the media and advertisers were telling me. But I knew that there was another way. It’s not that corporate careers are necessarily bad, it’s just that I was working against my own happiness without knowing it.
Be aware of the happiness traps and don’t get in the way of your own happiness! =)
For more articles on happiness, see: