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Want To Actually Be Happier? Try This, A Neuroscientist Says

There’s nothing wrong with wanting something more for you life, and by extension, seeking more happiness. But as neuroscientist Tara Swart M.D. tells mindbodygreen, that state between “being” and “becoming” can be a very unhappy state, because all you’re focused on is the fact that you’re not yet where you want to be. 

Say you were to visualize a Venn diagram, for instance, where one circle is your present self and the other is your ideal self. “If those circles sit completely over each other, then obviously, you’re living your best life. If they’re overlapping but not much, or they’re completely separate from each other, then that gap is a source of unhappiness, because it’s a focus on what you desire that you haven’t achieved yet,” Swart explains.

And when you focus on that gap, that discordance between who you are and who you want to be, “you don’t acknowledge you small wins or achievements along the way, and you just keep moving onto the next or bigger thing,” Swart says, adding, “and that will create a state of lack in your brain.”

Bestselling author Morgan Housel, who released Same As Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes this past year, echoed this point on a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, noting, “What really matters for your happiness is not your circumstances; It’s the gap between your circumstances and your expectations.”

As he explains, if your definition of success increases with every goal you achieve, you’re never truly satisfied. The key, then, is to accept the fact that improving your circumstances won’t result in lasting happiness. Manage your expectations, however, and you’ll likely feel content, Housel says.

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