The Ultimate 8,000-Word Guide to Creating Joy on Demand

Part 7 of 9

Why People Are Caught in the Unhappiness Cycle

To break the cycle, we need to understand why people repeat the cycle over and over again, even though it doesn’t help their well-being.

If you look at the cycle, there are four reasons why people repeat the cycle:

  1. BELIEFS: They keep having the same thoughts about their stressors.
  2. RESISTANCE: They keep resisting the same negative emotions to their thoughts.
  3. MISWANTING: They keep wanting the wrong things to soothe their discomfort.
  4. HEDONIC ADAPTATION: The false pleasure delivers a big blast of dopamine that fades quickly, and leaves them wanting more.

Once you understand these four reasons, you can identify the path to breaking this cycle:

  1. Change your beliefs.
  2. Allow all emotions.
  3. Want the right things.
  4. And build a steady stream of dopamine (not a big blast).

Lets break this down. Starting with step one…

Beliefs are simply repeated thoughts. As we repeat the negative thoughts to our stressors, we produce beliefs that become harder and harder to shake. These beliefs start filtering our perspective as our brain’s natural Confirmation Bias scans the world to support our beliefs. So if we want to break the cycle, we need to change our beliefs.

Then, we have to allow all emotions. This is the key that makes joy different than happiness. If we were in search of happiness, we could only allow positive emotions. But once we realize that all emotions belong, then we don’t have to escape our negative emotions. We can simply allow them. This build emotional resilience.

Next, we have to want the right things. When we’re in a negative emotional state, we typically want the wrong things to soothe us. In other words, we go to a false pleasure instead of something that is better for our well-being.

This has to do with our perception of what will make us happy. Oftentimes, our perception of what will make us happy is whatever will offer us instant gratification. This is why countless studies show that delayed gratification leads to more success in life. Delaying our gratification helps us want the right things that serve us in the long run. This gives us more joy, which gives us more success.

Finally, building a joy habit is what brings everything together. It’s important because of a concept known as hedonic adaptation.

Hedonic adaptation (also known as the hedonic treadmill) is the natural tendency to return to a baseline level of happiness, no matter how big a positive or negative event might be. In one study, hedonic adaptation was measured for newlywed couples who imagined marital transition as changing their happiness. But after a few years, they got used to it.

People repeat the cycle because once they receive a big dopamine hit from a false pleasure, they quickly get used to it, and need a bigger dose of dopamine to feel better. As the stressor intensifies, so does the need for a bigger pleasure.

The good news is, we can thwart hedonic adaptation with healthy joy habits. Joy habits still produce dopamine in our brain, but they’re not as concentrated as a false pleasure would be.

So lets talk about what a joy habit is…

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