When You Realize Life Would Be Empty and Boring

When you realize life would be empty and boring without problems, you begin to accept them and you can even have fun with them. When you enjoy facing problems instead of resisting them, you take care of them when they’re easy before they turn into an overwhelming mountain. – Elizabeth Hallowell

“Suppose tonight while you sleep, a miracle happens. When you awake tomorrow morning, what will you see yourself doing, thinking, or believing about yourself that will tell you a miracle has happened in your life?”

Linda Metcalf refers to the above scenario as “The Miracle Question.” Practitioners of Solution-Focused Therapy use it to help clients visualize and move toward their goals for treatment. While the Miracle Question does not explicitly ask about happiness, it can be reasonable to assume that the question elucidates that which people believe impedes their happiness. Furthermore, the answer to The Miracle Question paints a vision of the future in which the respondent is happy or at least on the road to happiness.

To understand the problems people often identify as obstacles to happiness and then the visions of their happy lives, I conducted a survey using a variation of The Miracle Question.  A supervisor from years ago used it with her clients and with me. The variation goes as follows:

Fill in the blanks:

If                     wasn’t such a problem for me, then I would                                      .

In my survey, this Miracle Question variation appeared amongst many other open-ended questions pertaining to happiness or the lack thereof. Results of the overall survey will be discussed over the upcoming months. The survey was conducted over the internet and advertised over various social media including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Furthermore, people were invited to participate via email and links posted to my website.

Seventy-six individuals completed the Miracle Question variation. Ages ranged from 18 years old to over 75, with 65% falling between 25 and 34 years of age. Eighty percent of respondents were women. Income ranged from less than $25,000 a year to over $200,000 a year, with 44% of respondents making between $50,000 and $99,999 a year.

Obstacles to Happiness

What did you enter into the first part of that sentence? What do people identify as the major obstacle to their happiness? The most common response I received was MONEY. Twenty-two of the 76 respondents (29%) indicated that money issues act as the main obstacle to making the vision of a happy future a reality. Most people simply wrote “money,” while others identified “economic/financial security,” “paying bills,” and “student loans” as hindrances to happiness. The table below highlights problems identified by the respondents; if only a miracle were to happen, these problems would disappear and the respondents’ lives would improve.

Psychological and other emotional issues played a relevant role in impeding peoples’ happiness (16%). Such issues included formal diagnoses such as PTSD, depression, agoraphobia, and anxiety. Experiences such as anger, fear, and “thinking too much” seemed to fit this category as well. If I included problems such as “lack of patience” and “being a people pleaser,” then the percentage of respondents who identify the main problem as psychological and other emotional issues bumps up to 18%.

Organizational behaviors and self-control fell next in line with 8% of respondents identifying their most significant obstacles as issues like procrastination, lack of discipline, difficulties scheduling, impulsivity, and general “organization.” Seven percent indicated that “if time wasn’t such a problem,” their lives would be better in some way. One could argue that time relates to organization behaviors as lack of time often reflects poor time management or difficulties making time for important activities. Disagree? Break your day down into half-hour increments and write down your typical daily routine. Might there be time spent participating in activities that could be eliminated or decreased in order to make room for something you consider more important (i.e., watching television, organizing something that could be broken up into smaller parts and spread across several days, doing something for someone that they could otherwise do themselves, etc.)?

Ego/Self-related issues were also identified by 7% of respondents, such as lack of self-confidence, not “being myself,” “being hard on myself,” “knowing how to be true to myself,” and how one is perceived by others. Eating habits, energy/motivation, sleep, physical limitations/pain, and other people posed problems for 4% of respondents each. The other people who interfered with happiness included various family members and “dealing with stupid people all of the time.” The remaining individuals (9%) offered idiosyncratic obstacles to happiness such as “trust,” “household duties,” “love,” and “responsibility.”  In what category does your primary problem fall?

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