Take Back Joy from the Five Thieves of Happiness

John Izzo learned two things during his ten-month sabbatical. The first thing he learned was that happiness does not exist outside of the self. Happiness is not a goal to achieve but a state of being, and one he believes to be the natural state of people.

His second discovery was that happiness is more complicated than a choice. Certain negative mindsets get in the way of our ability to be happy and Izzo believes we must confront these head-on if we are to surmount them. He names five of these “thieves” in his book The Five Thieves of Happiness.

Control

We all want to be the masters of our own destinies and control the situations in which we find ourselves as much as we can. We try to control the behavior of others, the amount of time a meeting will last, or even the traffic on our way home from a busy day! This kind of control, however, is an illusion. We can only control our own behavior and allow ourselves to go with the natural flow of things.

Conceit

The belief that we as individuals are not just separate from the rest of the world, but somehow better. This self-focused view keeps us from seeing the bigger picture of the world and the communities of which we’re a part. Rather than focusing on the self, Izzo suggests we look outward. How are we serving the world? What can we do to make our communities better?

Coveting

Envy is a natural experience we all feel, but perpetually wishing for what others have is, according to Izzo, a fool’s game. There will always be people out there who have more than us or are better than us at something. Rather than resent and pine for what we don’t have, try expressing gratitude for what you do have, or celebrating the talents and offerings of others.

Consumption

We’re taught that buying things will make us happy. However, no number of physical things will ever satisfy our desire for happiness. No matter how difficult to choose, happiness is still a choice, one we have the power to make every day.

Comfort

Comfort produces the illusion of happiness; it’s safe and reliable, but it is also uninspiring. People thrive on overcoming challenges and learning new things. The antidote is adventure, but even acts as mundane as picking a new route to work or starting a new hobby can push you away from comfort and into excitement.

The Takeaway

No matter what thief is plaguing us, Dr. Izzo offers a three-step solution to banishing them: Notice the thief when it arises, stop it by brushing it aside, and choose another, opposing thought to replace it. With these thieves out of the way, we can all move closer to our natural state of happiness.

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