A happiness hack: Stop listening

A parlor game I play with my kids and their friends: Set aside insecurity and explain your gravest weakness, Jim VandeHei writes.

  • One friend of my daughter didn’t flinch: She worries constantly about what others think of her.
  • I told her I had good news: Most people are so focused on themselves that they don’t bother to think of you at all. So it’s 100% wasted energy.

Why it matters: We all spend way too much time stewing about what other people are thinking about us — when they’re not thinking about us at all. We get spooled up over things that no one is paying a lick of attention to.

Arthur Brooks is the high priest of happiness. The author and professor has written 165 columns for The Atlantic about how to build a happy life, and teaches one of the most popular courses at Harvard Business School — “Leadership and Happiness,” which always has a waiting list.

  • He and Oprah Winfrey are out with a bestseller, “Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier,” which makes the game-changing point that as youget happier, you can bring greater happiness to others. Plus you’ll be less of a drag to be around.

My favorite chapter is about focusing less on yourself — stop caring what they think, as Arthur and Oprah put it.

  • Caring about “and paying attention to others is very different from worrying about what others think about you,” they write. “The first is helpful and good; the second is often egocentric and destructive.”
  • We can blame Mother Nature for this trap, Arthur and Oprah explain: “We are wired to care about what others think about us, and we obsess about it.”
  • That made sense when survival depended on acceptance by the tribe. Now it holds us back.

Things to remember about what they think:

  1. They’re wrong: In the unlikely event peopleare thinking about you, they’re probably wrong. Very few people know us intimately enough to make appraisals about our true character and beliefs.
  • If I had listened to a high school guidance counselor who told me to steer clear of college after graduating in the bottom third of my class, I might still be delivering pizzas. You’ve surely heard a hundred stories like this.
  1. They’re the wrong people: The only opinions you should really seek out and care about are from those who love you and know you, and would visit you if you had a stroke. Most of us are lucky to have a few of these people.  Spend your energy here. (See our earlier column: Have an Autumn.)
  2. You’re wrong: We often worry about the wrong people. We’re worried about jealous peers or loudly judgmental underachievers or people just popping off. The person to care about is the person who’s the best at what they do or best at knowing you — and they’ll pay zero attention to the superficial nonsense that fascinates others.
  3. You’re wasting time: Think how much time you wasted worrying about cool kids in high school or college, some of whom are now losers or long forgotten. Don’t waste the bandwidth on people you’re going to leave in your rearview mirror — or forget.
  4. Eye on the prize:If your energy and attention go into mastering your personal and professional game, you need to measure yourself against your own expectations — not those you believe others are imposing on you.

The bottom line: Every minute you stress about what others think about you is a minute spent not becoming a better you.

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