Have you ever wondered to yourself I have the family of my dreams, the house, the car, the job etc, and yet you are still so desperately unhappy? It doesn’t seem to matter how many things or goals you tick off your ‘I’ll be happy when’ list, you just don’t seem to feel that elusive happiness. Not in the, you know dancing, singing about life, birds singing, rainbows and unicorns sense at least.
In fact I am not sure I have ever felt much more than meh, great I just ticked that off the list. Does this sound like you? I hope so, if for no other reason than so that I am not alone in this.
Why is it so hard to be happy? Partly because our brains are really still stuck in a primitive time where our basic needs were Shelter, Water, Food & Sex. Primitive man was programmed to want more because for them they never knew when it might come along again; we are also programmed to want more. We constantly benchmark ourselves against others whether this is through media images or the workmates or friends, we want more.
Gen X want everything our parents have spent a lifetime working for (the relaxed lifestyle, nice car, nice house, long holidays etc) NOW! In an environment of easy credit often we get it. Part of the problem of not having to work hard to achieve rewards that are meaningful is that we will always want more. A little bit like happiness is a drug, once you have that little taste you want more. The problem with this cycle is the next time we feel happy because of something external to us it doesn’t give us that same “happy feeling”, so the next time it needs to be bigger and bigger and bigger, get the picture. There is a name for this “The Happiness Trap.”
So what is happiness? For me I know that I always thought I would be happy when:
- I have the perfect job – guess what the perfect job changes over time.
- I get married – I have discovered that being married doesn’t give me that giddy happy feeling every day, but why not I was sure it would?
- When I have children etc, etc.
Surely you are building a picture of the trap I fell into and really am very much struggling to get out of. A quick Google search of “what is happiness” can return upwards of 280 million results. It is a question that philosophers and psychologists have grappled with for thousands of years.
Happiness can be described as contentment, pleasure, joy, enjoyment, well being, delight and much more. What the researchers are finding now that when our happiness comes from that visceral, deep emotional level that simply cannot be defined by anything that is rational or logical that we will have a much longer lasting and fulfilling sense of happiness.
It is that elusive long lasting sense of happiness I crave! What I am learning though is that life is a roller coaster and really it is ok to not be happy all the time. Sometimes life can be really shitty and some really fucked up things will be thrown at us like your partner dying or getting cancer or not being able to have babies or life just not turning out the way you planned. You know what that is so totally ok and you aren’t meant to be happy all the time it is ok to feel all the feels not just happiness. In fact it is necessary to feel ALL the feels.
We are bombarded with messages that we need to be happy about everything little thing but guess what we don’t! We do need to process and accept these shitty things sometimes to get through to the other side to find the joy again.
If only it were as simple as choosing to be happy or believing yourself happy.
If we seek out that elusive happiness through “things” especially when we are possibly trying to hide from the fucked up life shit it can feel further and further out of our grasp and the harder we try the less satisfaction we get. However, if we have value and meaning in our life, living in a way that fits with the values we hold to be true for us then that sense of contentment and satisfaction is more likely to be longer lasting. The flipside of this is that if we are living a life guided by our values it can help us experience life in a rich and full way even when we might find ourselves up the creek without the paddle.
I am scared, I have a lot of pain that I need to learn to sit with, I have to find a way to fit my life that I have now fit with the values that I think I hold dear. This is going to be a difficult process not only for me but also other people around me, I will be resistant to change and I am sure that others may be resistant to changes that I might make. I am very fortunate that I am in the position to have the space and time I need to do this.
Many of us do not have the opportunity to make wholesale changes. However, if for example, you are in a job that you hate and a different job that fits with your values but might be less money but you know will give you a greater sense of satisfaction then as scary as it is try to find a way to make that work for you. We don’t always need to make huge changes to lead a more fulfilling life. They can be little and incremental but when they fit better with who we are deep inside then they will be right and will help us be happier.
So what now you ask you have realised that you are stuck in the trap and can’t find a way out. I call bullshit on that. With a good bit of self-reflection and hard work you can do what ever you want. We live in such a goal-orientated society that we get caught in the belief system that we must always head towards achieving something. Whereas if we are living a life that is true to our values then our life is far more likely to be fulfilling and meaningful, we can also be still working towards our goals at the same time.
You values provide you with a sense of purpose, direction and can be motivating forces in your life. The truth is the thinking; reflection part is the easy step! The hard part is taking action, making changes. The key is that you need to find the values that are right for you, that guide your thinking and you really hold onto. Once you have those then you can start to make the changes you want.
An example of this might be that you have a goal to buy a home for your family but to achieve this you are working in a job that you hate. When you examine the value around that it might be that you actually want to provide your family with security. There are many other ways apart from owning a house for a family to know that they are loved and secure. So once you have reflected upon that value and perhaps come up with other ways such as hugs, providing meals, heating, clothing, love, support to meed your value of security for your family. Then perhaps you can make a change to the job and find something that fits more with who you are that might pay less and the goal of owning a home might be further off but ultimately you are happier because you are living a meaningful life AND working towards your goal.
Change in life is bloody hard! Change in the way we think about ourselves and our pattern of thinking seems insurmountable at times. When we can commit to that process of finding our values and getting them to fit with our lives and perhaps in the process re-assessing our goals and whether they are actually important to us at all then we can live a life that is true to who we really are.
I’ll be totally honest with you and say I am struggling with this process. I am still at the really locking down the values stage; I mean I think I know what they are. But maybe I don’t. Life is a work in progress but the harder we try to control it I think actually it controls us!
Further reading: The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.
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