When renowned Positive Psychology scholar and TEDxUNLV speaker, Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, wanted to change the topic and content of his TEDx Talk, I was not happy. Robert had been selected because of his most recent work creating an online educational portal. The work he was doing in that area was part of imagining the future of education, which fit with our TEDxUNLV theme. However, the energy be brought to his revised topic when he proposed the change highlighted the importance of knowing where your heart really lies. In addition, he proposed a very overlooked aspect of elevating positive emotions — the art of looking back, instead of looking forward. My only postscript is that each new days provides a ‘yesterday’ to look back on a remind myself of my happiest day — up to that moment anyway.
What follows it Robert’s post outlining his position along with his TEDxUNLV talk.
The Most Overlooked Happiness Strategy
Because so much of what I do professionally is related to happiness I find that I am continually buying books on the subject. It is amazing how many titles on the topic there are. Myriad authors use “guides” “tools” “steps” and similar practical tips to help their readers achieve greater happiness. One day, it occurred to me that, almost without exception, happiness advice of the type commonly dispensed in these books is focused on the future. That is, if you make changes to your thinking or behavior today you can maximize your happiness tomorrow.
Something about this future focus didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps it was a perceived lack of attention to the present moment. Maybe it was a certain uneasiness in approaching happiness as if it were a financial investment strategy. And then it hit me: people tend to overlook the past as the greatest source of happiness. Let me say that again for emphasis: the past is your most productive repository of happiness.
By definition, you cannot predict your future. No matter how carefully you plan or how good are your intentions you simply do not know what the future will hold. Maybe some good stuff, maybe some bad stuff. Almost certainly, it will be both.
Turn around and look into your past, by contrast, and it is easy to identify pleasant experiences and positive memories. Even lives fraught with hardship will yield readily identifiable moments that can put a smile on just about any face. This is why so many friends get together to reminisce and why so few of us spend our social time in intense goal setting.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t still make plans or set goals? Of course not. You should still invest in the future, but not because you think it will make you happy. Rather, you should do it because one day those possible future pleasantries will slide into your past and become part of the stable of your greatest happiness resource: your memory.
I recently gave a TEDx talk entitled “Your Happiest Days Are Behind You.” Please share it with others!
–Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener