On July 4, 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and since then, Americans have been pursuing happiness.
The phrase “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” has become a cornerstone of American culture and psychology.
As a young man, Jefferson grappled with the concept of happiness, believing that while it should be pursued, it may be challenging to attain.
In 1763, Jefferson, then twenty years old, wrote a letter to John Page, a college classmate. In it, he recounted a recent experience of being rejected by a woman.
“Perfect happiness, I believe, was never intended by the Deity to be the lot of one of his creatures in this world; but that he has very much put in our power the nearness of our approaches to it, is what I have steadfastly believed.”
Jefferson’s philosophy was rooted in the pursuit of happiness, even if it may not be fully attainable. It was his guiding principle not only in his youth when he was romantically inclined but also as he helped establish a new nation in his middle age.
However, Jefferson failed to appreciate that with his single statement in the Declaration of Independence, he may have set the concept of “Happiness” as unattainable. This idea would go on to influence American culture.
By framing happiness as something we are pursuing, the direct implication is that we do not currently have it.
Focusing on the pursuit of happiness can cause us to overlook our current state of being. Our happiness becomes rooted in an uncertain future rather than the present. Instead, we can celebrate our achievements and progress along the way rather than always looking to the next achievement as the key to happiness.
Likewise, I could have been unhappy when I climbed with my dad and one of my brothers on top of the Lagginhorn, a 4,010-meter mountain in the Swiss Alps. At 5 a.m., we began our ascent, walking slowly to allow our body time to get accustomed to the thin air. At first, we didn’t seem to make much progress, but by setting one foot in front of the other, we reached the peak a few hours later and enjoyed the breathtaking views.
This ascent taught me an important lesson. I used to celebrate once I reached the top — my goal. During the climb, I had a choice at each break: look up or look down and notice the progress we’d already made.
By celebrating each step, we can find happiness in the present rather than constantly pursuing it in the future.
As a high achiever, you may often rob yourself of happiness by focusing on the world’s problems, realizing you can’t fix them all, and allowing your frustrations to grow.
Dan Sullivan, the Canadian founder of the Strategic Coach Program, noticed this toxic mindset in his successful coaching clients. He told them, “Your future growth and progress are based on your understanding of the two ways in which you can measure yourself: against an ideal, which puts you in the ‘GAP,’ focusing on all the things you haven’t done, and against your starting point, which puts you in the ‘GAIN,’ appreciating all that you’ve accomplished.”
The GAP mindset will keep you from living a happy, fulfilled life, while the GAIN mindset will allow you to appreciate your life and all you have achieved. But putting yourself in the GAIN frame of mind is easier said than done. You need to train your brain to recognize your wins, or as Dand Sullivan and his co-author Benjamin Hardy wrote in their best-selling book The Gap and the Gain, “Our eyes only see, and our ears only hear what our brain is looking for.”
If you want to feel good about your successes, you must actively look for them and celebrate them once you find them. Living in the GAIN mindset sets you up for enjoyment, satisfaction, and happiness. Boston University scientists showed that optimists lived 11 to 15% longer than pessimists.
So, do you want to live longer? Become an optimist.
King David was a big proponent of living with a GAIN state of mind. He said, “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” He wired this game-changing habit into his daily routine by writing numerous psalms that he regularly sang to give thanks to God.
The Bible calls the “GAP and the GAIN” concept praise. God wanted the Israelites to praise Him, to give Him glory. And this practice forced them to see their wins and to focus on the good instead of the bad.
As an engineer, I learned to see what’s not working (the GAP), which is suitable for my work but not so good for my personal life. I had to learn to see the wins (the GAIN).
That’s why I built a powerful habit. Before going to bed, I think of three things I’m grateful for. It can be as simple as a delicious lunch, a beautiful sunset, or a word of encouragement from a friend. If you are married, it may be your daughter’s smile, a great time with your family, or your excellent health.
You, too, can include a GAIN mindset into your daily routine by using habit stacking:
Dr. Benjamin Hardy, author of Be Your Future Self Now, says, “Being in the GAIN mindset is restorative, healing, and empowering.” In addition, when you recognize your wins, you build up momentum toward achieving your goals because you feel good about yourself, motivating you to keep going.
Give God thanks. You’ll build momentum toward achieving your goals when you train your brain to recognize your wins. You’ll feel good about yourself, motivating you to keep going.
In sum, by training your brain to see your wins, you can change your perspective to focus on the positive and appreciate what you have accomplished. The GAIN mindset allows you to enjoy your life and build momentum toward achieving your goals.
Incorporating a GAIN mindset into your daily routine can be done through habit stacking, and recognizing your wins can lead to a longer and happier life.
So take a moment to appreciate your successes and give thanks for them.