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The Key to Happiness Is Feeling in Control

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The Key to Happiness Is Feeling in Control

We all want to be happy. And to be happy we need to feel in control. And have habits. Good ones.

Research has shown that folks who are happiest have three things in their life – a daily sense of enjoyment, a daily sense of accomplishment and an on-going sense of control.

People who have these three things nailed down in their life are just… Happier. Let’s look at the Control aspect: a sense of control seems integral to being happier for nearly everyone.

When you do things that you choose to – then they tend to feel more natural and easier to do. This is conscious decision making and equates to feeling in control.

If a Doctor tells you that you must drink a lot less alcohol for your health, and you love a drink, then you don’t feel in controlIf you decide to cut back on your drinking because you want to be healthier – then you are happier because it was your deliberate, conscious choice.

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Being happier does not equate to not doing the things you don’t want to. But people who consciously exert control and decide how they will do these things – these folk are happier because they are on top of their responses.

Consciously controlling your choices and your actions come with a price though – decision fatigue.

Willpower is like a muscle – it has a limited amount of energy available before it tires. Once our willpower begins to flag it is easier to feel less in control.

One way to mitigate this is by the smart use of Habits.

Famously Steve Jobs had multiple Polo neck sweaters, jeans, and white running shoes, so he had one less decision to make each day – what to wear. Apocryphal or not this is an example of reducing decision making through creating a habit.

I bet that your morning routine doesn’t vary too much. The way you brush your teeth, make your coffee, get dressed and the route you drive to work – pretty much the same things subconsciously done in the same order, the same way. Every day.

This is the power of habits – they make life predictable by providing shortcuts for your brain and reduce decision making.

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Paradoxically freedom lies in structure. The more we can structure our lives the more in control we feel and the happier we seem to be. Habits allow us to do this.

But be careful; as our willpower wanes through the day we loosen our conscious control; then we take the path of least resistance. This leads to forming bad habits.

In fact, bad habits are the enemy of happiness because they reduce our sense of control; and create behaviours that make us tired, unhealthy, depressed, and irritable. We just didn’t just wake up overweight one morning.

That glass of wine becomes a bottle as we mindlessly drink and eat in front of the TV. That weekly take away becomes the three times a week evening meal. The blue light shed by the smartphones we use in bed disrupts our melatonin, so we awaken tired.

Bad habits come about as a creeping incrementalism, usually one at a time.

If we fall into the bad habit trap, we usually try to regain control of our lives by trying to fix everything at once. Remember decision fatigue – if you have to fight ingrained habits at every turn, you will lose; which then reinforces the bad habits.

The smarter, happier way is to use the same incremental approach that saw the bad habits take place in the first place – and begin by changing just one thing.

Simply having your evening meal at the table with the TV off will lead to less mindless eating and drinking. Deciding to walk 20 minutes a day will slowly get the exercise habit back on track. Use a blue light filter on your iPad– these are simple, easy things to do.

But, they give you a feeling of control. They invite a sense of accomplishment. They even can provide enjoyment. And wham, you start being happier again.

So, being happier equates to more conscious control of your decisions.

Enhance your control capability by creating healthy habits and reverse each bad habit one at a time.

That’s all it takes to feel more control over your life. And more control means feeling happier.

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