The Missing Tile Syndrome and the Art of Happiness

Hand-painted tiles.

The Missing Tile Syndrome — would you be much happier if you stepped back and looked at the bigger picture instead of focusing on the one missing tile? (Image: Mariusz Prusaczyk via Dreamstime)

The tendency of humans to focus on slight imperfections is called the “Missing Tile Syndrome,” which is a term coined by Dennis Prager in his thought-provoking book Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual.

Of all the barriers blocking us from leading happy lives, our own human nature stands the tallest. Even though we may have a life filled with much happiness and blessings, we often tend to focus on the negative as opposed to the positive, what is missing instead of what is there.

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In his book, Prager adeptly explains the challenges human nature poses to the pursuit of happiness and makes an analogy to highlight the human propensity to notice the single “missing” tile in a beautifully tiled ceiling as opposed to appreciating the greater beauty of the overall piece.

He argues that in order to deal with the Missing Tile Syndrome successfully, we need to determine whether what’s missing is central to our happiness or if it’s just another insatiable longing. 

The Missing Tile Syndrome: all eyes are on the missing tile

Imagine yourself entering a newly decorated room. The marble floor reflects the unique walls, each engraved with its own image. The furniture is large and impressive, drawing your eyes upward. Your gaze is then drawn to the unbelievable ceiling, a mosaic masterpiece.

And then you notice it — on the right side of the ceiling, there is a missing tile, and try as you may, you cannot help but ignore the lavish room itself as your eyes are irresistibly drawn to that missing tile. Actually, what happens is that you’ve magnified the imperfection and overlooked the dozens of other tiles perfectly installed in favor of this imperfection.

Therefore, you have allowed your focus to be drawn to the Missing Tile Syndrome, and robbed yourself of the opportunity to enjoy something beautiful and meaningful.

This hyper-focus on what’s missing would certainly serve to fuel a sense of anxiety and inadequacy — feelings that routinely impede your health and wellbeing. To resolve the Missing Tile Syndrome, Dennis Prager advises us to determine whether or not acquiring the missing tiles in our lives would truly bring us happiness and to then either get them, forget them, or replace them.

Gratitude is the ‘secret to happiness’

Cultivating gratitude is a sure step toward happiness and diminishing The Missing Tile Syndrome.
Cultivating gratitude is a sure step toward happiness and diminishing the Missing Tile Syndrome. (Image: Antonella865 via Dreamstime)

Life moves in the direction that your mind has focused on and it can never be made perfect. It’s also possible that you might never reach the point where the ceiling has all its missing tiles (desires) completed, for the simple reason that some tiles cannot be obtained, fixed, or replaced no matter your continuing efforts. For that reason, concentrating on the missing tiles is a formula that results in unhappiness without any end in sight, as the glass is always half empty.

Dennis Prager says:

“All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people becoming unhappy.”

When focusing your collective energy and time on the positive qualities and feeling a sense of gratitude for the things you already have, it’s almost certain that the negative aspects will take a back seat and the Missing Tile Syndrome will cease to exist.

As such, when you’re focusing on the limitless capacity for love within your heart, and take as your truest guide the universal principles of truthfulness and compassion rather than egotism, your thoughts, feelings, and words act as a beacon of light, lighting the universe and illuminating the path to true happiness.

To be aware of this connection, you’ll be able to change your perspective of the world and gain a sense of gratitude that elevates, enriches, and expands the human spirit and the human heart. 

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