Today’s article is by Professor Timothy Sharp, the Chief Happiness Officer of The Happiness Institute, in Sydney, Australia, devoted to enhancing happiness in individuals, families and organizations. His work was recently featured on an Australian reality television series entitled, “House of Food Obsessives.”
Having spent many years working with people trying to find happiness (and achieve various forms of success) I’ve discovered that one of the main obstacles to happiness is what I’ve come to call “the tyranny of when”.
”The tyranny of when” is the phenomenon we’ve all experienced at some time or another when we say to ourselves (or to others,) “I’ll be happy when…when I have more money, when I have a bigger house, etc.” Or the biggest one I’m hearing in the era of global obesity–“I’ll be happy when I lose weight.”
The problem for many people is that (for a variety of reasons) they never get there; and even if they do, they then think of something else that they “need” before they can really feel happy. Bigger houses, bigger mortgages, snazzier cars, the bigger, better super duper slice of pizza drowned in four different cheeses.
Psychologists refer to this as the ”hedonic treadmill” to show how we’re constantly running, as though on a treadmill chasing that carrot, and never actually getting anywhere! As a result, we don’t every really get to experience as much joy or satisfaction as we’d like. And in fact we just feel left frustrated, disappointed and downright miserable.
There is no other aspect of our lives where the “hedonic treadmill” is more evident than in our modern day eating behaviours. We can supersize our movie meals for just 50 cents more. McDonald’s and their “Golden Arches” are now officially more widely recognized as a cultural icon than the Christian cross. These days, we’re served up pasta on gigantic plates – enough not only to give us the Dolmio grin, but the double (and triple) chins to go with it. And compared to the standard family bottle of soft drink of the 1960’s, which was a mere 750mls, today we’re consuming super duper 3 litre ones.
Of course to combat the growing problem, most popular diet interventions include a lot of pill popping, restrictive eating, punishing exercise routines, and negativity. Our approaches to weight loss are often punitive and even insulting. Accordingly, many people feel depressed, hopeless and helpless when they’re blamed for being overweight or labelled as lazy, ill-disciplined failures!
So how is my approach different?
Whereas most diets propose that if you lose weight then you’ll be happy; The Happiness Diet proposes that if you get happy first then you’ll lose weight.
And the good news is this isn’t something I just made up, it’s based on a growing groundswell of scientific literature which supports the “positivity” approach to weight loss (see, for example, Barbara Fredrickson’s research on the “Broaden and Build” theory of positive emotions.
Traditionally, psychologists have focused on negative emotions and as a result we know quite a bit about how they affect us. In short, when we experience negative emotions (such as fear or anxiety) we close up. We tend to withdraw physically and psychologically and as a result, we tend not to cope as well.
In contrast, the more modern psychological science of positivity shows that positive emotions lead to improved performance, coping and resilience via the broadening of our minds and the increased capacity to build on previous experiences.
What this means for your weight loss is that positive emotions are not just nice; but they can reprogram the automatic negative food messages your brain gives your body about food. In other words, when those chocolate biscuits say “eat me . . . eat me” – you’ll be able to talk right back to them!
The findings on positivity are profound – not just for weight loss, but for all areas of life.
Positivity means that now, rather than succumbing to the tyranny of when, we can utilise “the power of then”. We can leverage off the idea that if we can create happiness first THEN we can achieve more of our goals.
How great would that be? We get to enjoy the wonders of positive emotions both before and after succeeding in our efforts? We also get to achieve optimum nutritional health; and to get the body we’ve always dreamed of.
So there it is; don’t wait until you succeed before you find happiness…find ways to make yourself happy first and then discover real weight loss success!
You can learn more about Dr. Timothy Sharp and The Happiness Diet at his website: www.thehappinessdiet.com.au