The Focusing Illusion

Published: 07th November 2007
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Copyright (c) 2007 Ainsley Laing

A win on the lottery is not the key to enduring happiness, according to researchers in the UK and US who study what makes people happy. Apparently, after the initial euphoria wears off, people return to the same level of happiness they had before the lottery win. There's much speculation among the researchers as to why.

Have you ever heard the term "focusing illusion"? It basically boils down to the idea that when people think about or fantasize about a major life change, we tend to exaggerate the effect the change will have on our happiness. We imagine it will be either far better or far worse than what actually happens after the dust settles from the change. Has this happened to you?

Have you ever worked toward buying something, say a nice car? First you say to yourself, "boy, I would love to have that car". After a while, you make a decision to save to buy the car. Your thoughts change to "when I have my new car...things will be great!" You save and the day comes to buy the car. It's a wonderful day, you are elated to be behind the wheel of this amazing vehicle and you just know that everyone is envious of you and your flash car. Days and weeks go by. Life continues as usual. It begins to dawn on you that, although you are very happy with the car itself, you are no more happy with life than before you had it. See how this works?

What about bigger life changes like a new job, new spouse, location change, new baby, etc...?

For those of you who have teens in your home: How often have you heard this? "When I go to university and leave home, things are gonna be much better for me" or similar comments. Well, we parents who went through it already know that while the freedom of growing up is really fun and exciting, there is responsibility associated with it. The initial euphoria of leaving home and being on your own wears off and becomes "normal" or even difficult.

Divorce is another example. If you have been through one (unfortunately, many of us have), you might remember reaching the decision in your mind that you had had "enough". Even if you were not the one who wanted the divorce ' you probably got there anyway. With that decision, your mind turns toward the future: how much better your life will be without the other person, how you will be free to find someone better for you, how you will be free of conflict and fighting and, of course, if you are divorcing because you feel you are in love with someone else, how much better your life will be with your new love. And so it goes...

What was the long term reality? My guess? After a few years in your new life, you were the same person as before your problems began. Am I right? Yes, you were unhappy with the SITUATION of your old life; but if you were generally happy within yourself, you remained so. If you were not, once the focusing illusion is gone, you were the same - unhappy.

There is a dark side to the focusing illusion. Do you know someone whose parent, spouse or boss is overly critical? Don't you feel sad or worried for the person? What would you say to them if they asked? Run away ' this relationship is not good for you. Yet, this person probably keeps a hold of the focusing illusion "if only I could do this or have this, I would feel loved by my parent, spouse or be rewarded by my boss." This dynamic occurs in many abusive relationships: verbal, emotional and physical. Not healthy. Yet many people propagate this, because of the optimism the focusing illusion provides.

While the focusing illusion can help us work toward a goal, wisdom helps distinguish the reality from the fantasy. Life experiences teach us that external forces (people, situations and material things) cannot "make" us happy or unhappy. Blaming others for our unhappiness or depending on others to provide happiness only serves to alienate everyone close to us. In fact, by believing this we are giving away our personal power of self determination and our choice to be happy.

The moral of this story?

The focusing illusion serves to motivate people in many ways. It contributes to our ability to dream and remain optimistic in the face of adversity. Dreams drive us forward and give us the power to make our lives magnificent.

To put it in another way: it's not the dreams or desires themselves that make us happy. It's the accomplishments and connections that come with pursuing them with honesty and integrity that is the true root of our happiness.

It's the process of getting there....

Staying happier for longer. By Professor Martin Seligman.
Study Shows "Grass is Greener" View Usually False


About the Author:
Ainsley Laing, MSc. has been a Fitness Trainer for 25 years and writes exclusively Body for Mind eZine. She holds certifications in Group Exercise, Sports Nutrition and Personal Fitness Training. She is also a professional engineer and mom. To see more articles by Ainsley visit or the blog at

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