The secret to happiness: live a good enough life

The secret to happiness: live a good enough life

by SARAH HAMPSON from Monday's Globe and Mail

Here’s some counterintuitive news. You should aim for The Good Enough Life.

Oh, I know. It sounds pathetic, defeated: the goal of someone who lacks high standards and a good work ethic, someone who is willing to settle for mediocrity. Not a doer; a pessimistic loser.

Well, happiness experts say satisfaction is largely a matter of expectations. Expectations can sink you. You always thought you would live in a nice house with a double-car garage, have a couple of lovely children, an influential, well-paid job, a devoted spouse and savings in your bank account.

And when you don’t? Yeah, help yourself to a slice of misery pie.

On the other hand, when you don’t expect much, when you manage the ideas of what you think your life should be, you can be pleasantly surprised – and grateful – for the good fortune that comes your way.

The trouble is, that attitude doesn’t fit with society’s prevailing imperatives. There’s a fundamental tension at play in how we’re encouraged to think about our lives. We’re exhorted to achieve our dreams and never give up, to think positive, and yet the resulting expectations – some unrealistically high – can make us dissatisfied, even depressed.

Go ahead, start by blaming your parents. “Have you ever heard a parent say ‘I only want what’s good enough for my children?’ ” offers Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.

“You can’t even get that sentence out, can you?” he says, laughing. “Whatever standards we have for ourselves, they’re not true for our children. We create people who are perfectionist because they observe us trying to provide the very best, showing us day after day that good enough is just not good enough for our precious jewels. And when the time comes to make their own decisions, children adopt the same standards.”

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