Friday, April 28, 2017

'The Five Thieves of Happiness' by John Izzo


Stop Seeking Happiness; Just Get Out of Its Way! 
Happiness is our natural state, for each of us and for humanity as a whole, argues John Izzo. But that happiness is being stolen by insidious mental patterns that he depicts as thieves: the thief of control, the thief of conceit, the thief of coveting, the thief of consumption, and the thief of comfort. 

I enjoy the occasional books on happiness theory. They are quite often mood lifting, even if there aren't many fresh insights (because to be fair, if you've read a few, how much new material can there be?) This book stands up pretty well in the crowd, focusing on what I've come to know is probably the key factor, our thought life. Izzo's points even fitted perfectly with a random quote that popped up on Facebook, something like, 'Depression may be a sign that instead of controlling your thoughts, your thoughts are controlling you.'

He identifies five mindsets which he calls happiness thieves, and for memory convenience, he's made them all start with the letter C. Then he points out that they're shifty little sneaks, because they all disguise themselves to look like friends who are looking out for us, and want the best for us. Here they are. I think they overlap a bit, but it's good to have them all set out.

1) Control.
It occurs when we keep trying to force life to turn out the way we want it to, instead of accepting it as it comes. We're far more carefree when we give up caring so much about outcomes and results, before we allow ourselves to relax and enjoy peace of mind.

2) Conceit.
This is otherwise known as ego. We tend to overemphasise our own personal significance, and feel a great need to distinguish and set ourselves apart from others. It keeps us constantly measuring our rank, obsessing about where we fit in the world, checking our stats and wanting our personal footprints to be distinct. He challenges us instead to regard ourselves as small components of a significant whole. We've been brainwashed by a world which is all about 'finding ourselves'. Perhaps ancient tribal peoples who didn't place emphasis on self discovery for the individual were onto a better thing.

3) Coveting.
It's disguised as helpful ambition, and could even be called comparison or competition. We tend to convince ourselves that we live in a place of lack, and badly crave something someone else has got. That's a certain recipe for disappointment and envy. The great challenge is to develop our internal compass so we know what truly makes us content, instead of being dragged along by what matters to others. And we must remind ourselves frequently that life is a journey and not a contest.

4) Consumption.
This is not merely purchasing things but buying into the whole idea that happiness is to be found somewhere 'out there'. It's believing the insidious lie, 'I'll be happy when I have X.' He reminds us that the root of the word 'happiness' is misleading itself, since it's based on what's happening. If we forget all that and choose contentment, we'll be better off. This is purely a choice of our mind, and nothing to do with what's taking place.

5) Comfort.
He urges us to change our habits and reactions from time to time, rather than letting autopilot ones from our long-ago past cruise us through our lives.

So once we've trained ourselves to be on the lookout for each of these, the 3-step process he recommends is simply notice, stop and replace. It's all deceptively simple sounding, but I reckon if we follow his advice instead of just moving on to the next book on our list, it'll help us achieve what he promises. That's not necessarily our burning ambitions, but daily contentment. And I've been reflecting lately that life passes so quickly, that's what we're really looking for.  

4.5 stars

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