Many of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to be happy. And I’m here to tell you we’re getting it wrong. This is partly because we are making the wrong assumptions.
Instead of asking How can I be happy?, we should be asking other questions: What does it mean to be happy? Can I be happy even when things aren’t going my way? Does happiness look like pure joy or something else entirely?
Happiness is a hot topic. But for me this whole focus on happy is increasingly coming into question. Even well known happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, NYT best-selling author of The Happiness Project, recently gave a talk entitled The Half-Truths About Happiness.
And research supports the notion that happiness rarely looks like what we think it will. For instance, Dan Gilbert, Harvard professor of psychology, argues that “our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy.” Basically he says that what we think will make us happy seldom does. He even found that folks who have suffered great tragedy often turn out to be more happy than folks who have gotten what they want.
In order to be truly happy we must shift the conversation away from our notions of happiness.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I advocate cultivating habits I think will make us happier: exercising, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, spending quality time with loved ones, meditating, serving our community, dancing whenever you get the chance.
At the same time, these behaviors will never ever make us entirely happy, at least not in the way we most often frame happiness. One important reason is that we will inevitably fall short. We will catch a cold, neglect our meditative practice, be too busy, eat too much dessert… And, ultimately, this gives us more reason to be self-critical and unhappy.
We need to shift the discourse on happiness to questions of satisfaction.
In the coaching work I do I’ve discovered it’s much more useful to consider satisfaction. Lasting, genuine happiness is about being pleased with what you have. It’s about using your discernment.
Are you making choices based on your core values? Are you in tune with your own needs and desires? Are you satisfied that you’re doing your best? When you fall short do you seek support?
Being continually happy, joyful or blissed out is a lot of pressure and, frankly, unrealistic. Being satisfied with life, however, is not.
I’ve suffered my share of disappointment, failure, sadness. And still, I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I’m connected and alive. Am I partying all the time? Am I always smiling? Am I worry free? Of course not.
What I am is content with my choices. I seek and find the support of a community and of close friends. I have a great therapist. I do work I love. I am deeply contented. And my happiness includes my anxiety, frustration, fatigue, anger…
What about you? How can you shift your perspective from the pressure to be happy to feeling more satisfied, grateful, and alive?