Standards of happiness

Is there a secret to happiness? Well, I can’t say for sure but if you like to get your psychology from pithy aphorisms there are plenty of secrets out there.

One secret to happiness that recently came to my attention was the following: Lower Your Standards!

The psychologist in me says YES! I cannot think of a single principle that would most help depressed individuals. While not the only cause of unhappiness, many such individuals feel that nothing they do is good enough. If high standards are applied to themselves, they are constantly faced with a sense of failure. If they apply the standards to others, they are constantly disappointed.

But of course I am not only a psychologist. I am also a citizen who expects good services from government. I am a parent who wants to see his children develop well both physically and mentally. I am concerned with the quality of the environment. I would like to see world conflicts eliminated. Without standards where would we be?

As always, I come down squarely on the fence. Standards simply need to be questioned, not necessarily raised or lowered. High standards are good. Standards that are too high make us miserable. Lower standards are good for happiness but standards that are too low can also make us miserable.

Here is my column from two weeks ago on this topic.

Lower your standards…or raise them

(Source: Abaissez vos normes…ou relever-les. Journal Métro, October 27, 2009)

A director recently asked a group of managers: “Have you heard the three-word secret to happiness? Lower-your-standards.” At that, he laughed in a mocking was as if to say, “Fat chance. We will not lower our standards. Our clients deserve better.”

Yet the saying does ring true. Lower standards are easier to meet and we are more likely to be satisfied with ourselves if our expectations are met. In fact, one of the most common problems seen in depressed and burnt out individuals is a tendency to have unrelenting standards – the feeling that nothing is ever good enough.

Lower your standards

Individuals with very high standards are usually super performers and often rise to be leaders in our society. Everyone around them sees their skills and their worth. Unfortunately, they rarely can see it in themselves. They are driven by a sense of trying to overcome weaknesses and trying to meet what they consider to be minimum standards. For these people, the true secret to happiness is to lower their standards.

Raise your standards

But what about people with very low standards? They may be satisfied too easily. People who don’t question what they eat, for example, may happily consume fast food every day. And why bother exercising if your health standards are low? If you have low standards you are probably a happy individual. Unfortunately, your world may eventually fall apart around you. I certainly wouldn’t want you to cook for my family, build my home, or design my car. Over time, your lack of standards will catch up with you and make you as unhappy as the people who are never satisfied.

Question your standards

The true secret to happiness is to have realistic standards and expectations. Those with high standards must lower them in order to find the satisfaction and happiness that their successes should provide. Those with low standards must raise them in order to find happiness that is more lasting.

Unfortunately, very few of us really know whether our standards are too high or too low. These beliefs are like any other bias. The person with high standards actually believes he or she has standards that are too low. That is what pushes them to try harder. The person with low standards usually feels his or her standards are high enough. That is what makes them not try.

Now, if we could only get those two groups of people to magically merge, we would have a world full of contented and productive people. Of course, it would also put people like me out of work.

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Posted in Depression, Happiness.

Posted on 10 Nov 2009

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One comment to Standards of happiness

  1. Josie
    On Feb 11th 2010 at 22:50


    I want to say thank you for all the info that you have on your blog or what ever it’s called lol lol sorry I’m new at this one if you can tell lol

    I get Depress at time and I get lonely but I keep trying and fighting to feel better.

    I enjoyed reading Standards of happiness very interesting NOW if I can put this to work for me .
    I wish I had someone to help me to change the way I think . I tryed to get help but they say I fall between the cracks as there is worse then me out there .
    how sad , no help, I thank God I am a fighter .
    keep up the good work , will read more tomorrow .