Could being mindless lead to a happier, healthier you?
Happiness – we’re all after it. In fact, we have become slightly obsessed with it in recent years. The concept of ‘mindfulness’ has recently emerged, which essentially means ‘conscious awareness’. Mindfulness has been used in self-help theories, implying that you will find happiness if you train yourself to think positively, believe in yourself and shun negative emotions. This trend has grown hugely, with sales of self-help and mindfulness books soaring, such as ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ by Richard Carlson (Hodder) – a global bestseller. We truly have become fixated on gaining (and maintaining) positivity, and ultimately achieving contentment, fulfilment and happiness.
But with depression and suicide rates at an all-time high, is this really working? We are undoubtedly seeking happiness more than ever before, but we do not seem to be any happier. So are mindfulness and other such positive-thinking techniques really helpful? Not according to two psychologists who saying being mindless is the answer.
Psychologists Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener explain in their new book, ‘The Power of Negative Emotion’ (Oneworld Publications) the importance of being mindless. The book seeks to explain ‘how anger, guilt and self-doubt are essential to success and fulfilment’.
Kashdan and Biswas-Diener suggest that instead of seeking happiness, we should attempt to achieve wholeness, meaning we should accept all emotions as essential to our wellbeing and potential for success. They argue that ‘feeling good and feeling bad let us know about the quality of our progress, our interactions, our environment and our actions’, so being too positive, and trying to feel good all the time, is not necessarily the best approach. They say the ideal ratio should be 80% positive, 20% negative, and to accept this 20% as a part of who we are.
We take a look at the key reasons, as outlined in their book, why we should embrace mindlessness and allow ourselves to feel negative emotions…
When we're happy, our comfort levels mean we tend to be more gullible, less persuasive, and a little further from success. Studies have shown that performance levels are often depleted due to positive feeling; for example, students who are confused and work through the confusion do better in the given assignment.
Kashdan and Biswas-Diener propose that you shouldn't try too hard to base your life around achieving happiness, as it 'interferes with the pleasure, engagement, and meaning we could otherwise find in the world'. Trying too hard to pursue happiness could mean that we are losing some of it along the way.
In this day and age, and particularly in Britain, we have everything we need - food, water and shelter. However, the pursuit of happiness means we are constantly striving for better, which ultimately means we can never be satisfied.
Kashdan and Biswas-Diener use the example of air conditioning in cars - a great feature of modern technology - suggesting that before long this will not be enough, and you will need heated seats or separate heating and cooling zones for the driver and each passenger. Ironically, this is actually being developed at the moment!
The more we pursue happiness and comfort, the more we will find any form of discomfort (even if it is necessary and temporary) intolerable, and thus we make life even more difficult for ourselves, and total comfort becomes unachievable.
Although agreeing that chronic anxiety is extremely unhealthy for your physical and mental wellbeing, Kashdan and Biswas-Diener suggest that some anxiety is good, as it works as a 'human alarm system'. It encourages a greater ability to eliminate danger, as well as increasing our attention to detail and precision. This means we will be harder workers and therefore we can achieve more.
Guilt motivates us to be moral and learn from our mistakes, while anger is also helpful as it makes us more confident of a positive outcome, better at winning negotiations, more likely to fight injustice and even more creative. Of course, you should express your anger in an appropriate way - however, these emotions can be beneficial to our health and our success, rather than detrimental.
Opposing the hugely popular concept of mindfulness, Kashdan and Biswas-Diener suggest that we should be mindless if we want to be more successful, make better decisions and be better equipped to deal with complicated situations.
Studies have shown that our gut intuition often serves us better than consciously working through problems, and therefore we should listen to it more often.
Kashdan and Biswas-Diener controversially suggest that specifically 'negative' personality traits, such as narcissism and manipulation, are inherent in everyone. They argue that we should accept these traits, rather than suppress them (in moderation, of course), as they will better help us achieve our goals.
They explain that narcissism encourages creativity, as narcissists have little interest in being socially appropriate, therefore they are more capable of thinking outside the box. They emphasise that some of the greatest leaders and most brilliant minds in history had these characteristics; they were willing to take risks and be disliked in the pursuit of fulfilling their potential.