Why does self-improvement bum me out?

I feel like the more I concentrate on myself (as in working on myself, my issues, etc.), the less happy I am. What’s the deal with “self improvement”?

Your question reminds of a time when an acquaintance told me that she finds bliss when someone witnesses how she is a screw-up. When I asked her to say more, she talked about how she is more likely to pay attention, take the screw up seriously, and then work to “redeem herself” when someone witnesses it. Yes, there are spiritual undertones to what she is saying. Go with it. It’s true. Failing in isolation fosters denial. 

And when you’re in denial—which is really a euphemism for lying to yourself—you impede your progress. That’s the amazing thing about truth: it marches on whether you join it or not. But the sooner you join it, the sooner you’ll get to living the amazing life that’s been there all along waiting for you.

Unfortunately, sometimes we are so in love with what we want, we get stuck, unless somebody shines a light on our blind spot. At the very least, having someone call you on your truth will give you the opportunity to fail differently. And failing differently is what this self-improvement process is all about.

And this gets to the heart of your question: When you’re working on yourself along with someone else, it’s much easier to avoid that less-than-happy feeling you’re having. They say a man catches more fish when he fishes along side another than when he fishes alone. And it’s been proven that what makes people happy is having bonds with others—human connection—so when you partner with someone else, it makes you happy because steppin’ up your game is exhilarating! Your expertise is witnessed. Failures are noted. It’s easier to laugh at your mistakes. You bounce back faster. You have a greater chance of seeing your mission through to the end.

Since we’re talking happiness, it bears mentioning here that we get the highest dopamine rush just before the mission is accomplished. Once you nail it, the rush is over and it’s “come down from the mountain” time. You still get to enjoy the pleasure of the bond, but the high doesn’t sustain.

Because the high is short-lived, some people opt instead for going for Mission Meaningfulness, which to me is just Happiness 2.0, and something I’m all about. Basically this involves subscribing to the common theme of every mainstream belief system: focus on any life form 10 times more than yourself if you want to find meaning in life. Do not listen to Ayn Rand if you want to be a happy man.

Look around and you’ll find that those who live by this principle have a greater sense that their life is meaningful and infinite. They are not stuck in a rut complaining about being unhappy. The “I/me” almost seems irrelevant when we’re busy helping a local school plant a garden or volunteering at a food bank. When you’re living Happiness 2.0, it’s bigger than you, so procrastinating, bailing, and denial are not options.

But be careful with this Happiness 2.0 mission and avoid focusing on those who don’t seek your help. I can’t emphasize enough that one needs to acknowledge boundaries and avoid rescuing where it isn’t wanted. Meaningful to all is essential.

We need each other to be happy. And that’s why my final piece of advice to you is: Never improve alone.

If you want a partner to witness your happiness mission, I’d love for you to get in touch.

Big peace, big love,

Jerome!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sindy Lee Ho December 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm

This is so thoughtful, wise, and well-written, and so much if it rings true to me. Thanks Jerome! Big peace and big love to you as well.

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Daniel DeMonico January 12, 2016 at 11:52 pm

I must have gotten goose bumps while reading this three different times.

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