What is a locus of control and what does it have to do with happiness? Most of us believe that when we have more or become more, then we’ll be happy. In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor argues this formula is the wrong way around: greater success doesn’t lead to happiness. Instead, greater happiness predisposes us to greater success.
In the book, he shares 7 principles that can help us train our mindset towards happiness. He also offers key insights from psychology that can help us retrain our minds for happiness and all the good stuff that comes with it.
One of these is our locus of control. Our locus of control describes how much control we think we have over what happens in our lives. People with an external locus of control believe their daily events are dictated by external forces whereas people with an internal locus of control believe their actions have a direct effect on their outcomes. This is similar to the victim mindset and creator mindset in The Drama Triangle.
Where is your locus of control?
When we have an external locus of control, we perceive ourselves to be at the mercy of external forces. We usually feel out of control and powerless to change the things happening in our lives. We feel that things happen to us, and this feeling of helplessness deeply affects our sense of wellbeing.
When we have an internal locus of control, on the other hand, we are a lot more open to recognising where we can change our actions to change our circumstances. We’re better at identifying where we actually have control, where we don’t, and focusing on the things we can change, rather than the things we can’t. As you’re probably guessing, when we have an internal locus of control, we can still feel in control and empowered to change things—even when the proverbial shihtzu hits the fan.
The important thing about the locus of control is that how much control we have in reality has little bearing on how we feel about our situation: it’s how much control we think we have, and how good we are at differentiating between the things we can control and the things we can’t.
As Shawn explains throughout the book, happiness isn’t just a mood or emotion (as we usually think of it), but it’s a work ethic. We can improve our levels of happiness with conscious attention and practice, and we can have the opposite effect by living unconsciously and neglecting our mental and emotional hygiene.
He also explains that, rather than focusing on pursuing lasting happiness, we should focus on how we feel day-to-day. This fits with the points above: we can’t control today how we will feel 10 years from now, but we have a lot more influence over our experience 10 minutes from now. Cultivating happiness isn’t about achieving some kind of nirvanic state, but about being consistent with our daily actions. Our external circumstances only predict about 10% of our total happiness—the rest is up to us.
How do you think your locus of control influences how you feel about things that happen in your life? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.