Happiness is a state of mind and that is determined by where we focus our attention in life and the questions we ask ourselves, argues Karl Morris.
What will make you happy in your golf, your business or your life in general? Over the years I have worked with some golfers who appear to have everything. Major titles, untold wealth, beautiful homes, cars and families yet they are as miserable as sin and I have also had the pleasure of working with some players who life doesn’t seem to have dealt a kind hand to yet they are as happy as could be and radiate a healthy outlook.
I well remember meeting a man who cleaned shoes for a living in the locker room at Carmel Valley in California who radiated happiness who said he felt lucky to be alive because the shoes he cleaned made ‘other people happy’.
If you type in the search ‘being happy’ into Google you may or may not be startled to find that instantly up pops 1.7 MILLION results to your search! It would seem that a LOT of us are searching for what makes us happy and are only too willing to invest time and resources into that search.
An awful lot of academic research has been focused on the causes and considerations for happiness to be achieved. I suppose by definition if there are so many people searching for the causes of happiness then there must be a lot of people who are unhappy! To put this into some sort of stark perspective I was staggered to discover recently that the number one cause of death in adult males between the age of 20 and 49 was not cancer or heart disease or even road accidents but suicide. It’s an incredible statistic pointing towards so many people struggling to find meaningful happiness in their life and getting to a dreadful place where living becomes too painful.
One book I do think stands out in this field of happiness research is called ‘Happiness by Design’ written by Paul Dolan a professor of behavioural science at the London school of Economics and Political Science. Dolan takes a slightly different view than most on the happiness debate, in so much as he puts forward a thesis on most of the existing research, suggesting the happiness indicators currently used may well be very flawed.
A great deal of the research questioning is biased towards peoples overall satisfaction with their life as opposed to their DAILY experience of life. He points out many people are moderately satisfied with what they are achieving overall in life in terms of money and status but the picture of daily experience is somewhat less rosy. He explains happiness is generally present when there is BOTH pleasure and purpose in your daily LOT. It is not just about indulging in hedonistic pleasure nor is it just about a stoic adherence to a pursuit of purpose.
I have seen this so much over the years in golf. So many players lose the pleasure in the game they once loved because they feel they SHOULD be somewhere else. The current place they are at makes them unhappy as they perceive they should be somewhere else. If they are ten handicap they should be single figures, if they are scratch they should be plus two, if they are on the Challenge Tour they should be on the European Tour, on the European Tour should be PGA Tour and so on.
Of course if we didn’t have the ambition to do these things there would be little purpose for many players in putting in the long hours required to improve their game. Yet as Dolan points out if it is ALL about purpose and we lose the pleasure we WILL come unstuck and as I have seen over the years it is VERY difficult to be really good at a sport if you don’t enjoy it.
Most people didn’t get into golf because of where the game could take them, they got into the game as a result of the initial PLEASURE and the FEELING it gave them and then somewhere along the way we tend to lose sight of this in the pursuit of being somewhere else. We fall into the trap of what I call ‘Doing THIS for THAT’ in the sense we are always doing something to get us SOMEWHERE else. A balance has to be struck in the pursuit of goals but if we are never happy with HERE then you will not be surprised to find that when you get to that place you think you should be, then it is instantly replaced with yet another destination; striving yet never arriving.
Another point that Paul Dolan makes beautifully in his book is the fact it isn’t so much money, or status, or achievement that is the biggest factor, it is how much we put our ATTENTION on these things. If our attention isn’t focused in a particular area then it will be less of an issue. The reason I titled my golf book ‘Attention’ is because I believe fundamentally in any task or situation our precious attention will be EITHER in a useful or useless place regarding that task at hand.
Understanding WHAT to pay attention to in golf or life in general is a fundamental skill of the Mind Factor. I have always worked with players to help them gain an insight into how they can reconnect with that part of themselves that truly gained BOTH pleasure and purpose from the game they play.
I am using playing golf as an example here but the very same principles apply to any area of your life you spend a lot of time focused on. It is only a speculation but the alarming numbers of people who are deserting the game of golf are not leaving because they are having too MUCH pleasure. There is a lot of talk about all the reasons why the game is struggling; it takes too long, it costs too much and of course these aspects may all be factors, but it is surprising what human beings will do and the sacrifices they will make in the pursuit of something they enjoy and makes them FEEL good. Clearly golf is NOT making enough people feel GOOD enough!
I have talked before in these articles about the power of questions because fundamentally questions FOCUS our attention. It is always interesting to see how the questions people get asked at the end of a round of golf subtly change the longer we play. If you think in the very early days of your golf you will have been asked, ‘Did you enjoy that?’ when you completed a round of golf and I guarantee for most people that question has now changed to a new priority which will be ‘What did you shoot?’
Please don’t think in any way I am trying to belittle score and performance but I am making the point that how we go about achieving good scores in any area of life is far more counterintuitive than we ordinarily think.
Sometimes the simplest questions can be the most important:
- What could I ENJOY about golf?
- What could I ENJOY about coaching?
- What could I ENJOY about this business?
The question is a very simple but incredibly useful one as it gives you the OPTION of putting your attention on something useful to your CURRENT experience not a place where you think you should be. It gives you the chance to enjoy something going on NOW. Of course you may choose to keep your attention on the things you hate but it becomes your own individual CHOICE!
The answers to that very simple question will allow you to put your ATTENTION into the areas that give you the most pleasure. You then have the CHOICE to put your attention in those areas a little more strongly the next time you do whatever it is that you do. It is a theme you will hear from me often, but when you change your questions this will change your focus of ATTENTION and what you pay attention to WILL determine your outcomes and far more importantly your overall level of happiness and life satisfaction.
Karl Morris will be running his ONLY Mind Factor course this year for players and coaches in central Manchester between 20 and 22 November. Anyone serious about improving their coaching or their own game can find details at www.themindfactor.com