Oh, Happiness. How you love to taunt us all from the cover of magazines and our friends Facebook feeds. Why is it that so many of us find ourselves unhappy in a world where there’s so many things trying to make us happy? So many tips available on how to being happy? And so many books written on the secrets of true happiness?
Because we’re missing the point, people. We’re missing the point completely.
I can tell you, I am an expert in happiness. Yep, I really am.
Because I’ve struggled with it for sooo long. It turns out happiness is not my normal state of being. Sure, I thought I’ve been happy many times in the past, but it turns out I probably wasn’t and in fact did things to convince myself that I was happy . . . really happy.
College was great. No, college was awesome. Friends, dating, partying, and yes, even the real reason I was there – education – was a great time in my life. Life was good, and I was happy. (Or so I thought.)
Then pretty much straight from college I went to Naturopathic school. I was super fit, had tons of friends, and always had something going on. At any given moment, I had social events, friends to be with, and an endless supply of options to keep me busy. Life was good, and I was happy. (Or so I thought.)
But the truth I now realize is that maybe I wasn’t so happy, at least not as happy as I wished I was. So, I distracted myself from that fact by constantly surrounding myself with people, social activities, and fun. And it worked. I felt happy, complete, and free. Feelings that all but disappeared as I entered the reality of motherhood where constantly distracting myself was no longer an option. Rather than running around busy, I sat quietly with my newborn baby who didn’t talk, didn’t distract, and whose very existence I couldn’t wrap my head around.
Funny enough, this is what enabled me to finally catch true happiness, probably for the first time in my life. And truth be told, it’s not something I always have a handle on. I work at happiness, with varying degrees of success, all the time. It seems that for as many things there are to be happy about, there’s always something waiting to make you feel not so happy.
I’ve learned to not base happiness on experiences and instead work on my own internal state of existence. Here’s how you do it.
Actually, let me first tell you what doesn’t work for happiness. Techniques. You know, those “Top Seven Ways to Be Happy” you might read in a magazine or catch online. Chances are the author probably doesn’t do any of them anyhow, and if she did, she’d tell you they didn’t work.
Fake-it-till-you-make-it doesn’t work either. Faking anything is just that – fake – and eventually fades away.
Distracting yourself is probably the worst for finding happiness. It’s easy to run away from things but we eventually get tired of running and our fears and insecurities don’t. They’ll eventually catch up to us, no matter how far we run. They always catch up.
Here are the top three things I’ve found have led to the greatest sense of true happiness in my life. The beauty is, you can chose one, and focus on it. And the better you accomplish it, the more happiness you’ll have throughout your life.
1. We’ll See
We often compartmentalize events of our lives into nice little boxes. That horrible break-up. The day we lost our job. A car accident. But the thing is, life is a sequence of events that are often connected to other sometimes unrelated events. This story is a great example. Have you heard of it?
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "Maybe," the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe," replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.
Few events are inherently good or bad and thus shouldn’t affect our happiness. If we let the events of our life impact our happiness, it ends up becoming an emotional rollercoaster. And rollercoasters, though exhilarating, are stressful. You lose a job – unhappiness. But it leads to a new and better job – happiness. But you get into a car accident going to your new job – unhappiness. But you meet a super cute police officer that pays you a compliment – happiness. Rollercoaster. Fun, exciting, dramatic, but exhausting.
So how about when something “good” or “bad” happens, just say “We’ll see” and be peaceful about it. And if you haven’t heard, peacefulness is happiness. Show me a peaceful person, and I guarantee they’ll be happy. Just because someone is smiling doesn’t make them happy. Robin Williams was constantly laughing, smiling and making other’s laugh, but he wasn’t peaceful. He wasn’t happy.
This is what I mean – this alone takes work. It’s hard. And I’ve failed at it more times than I care to admit. But it is one very real, non-techniquey path to happiness. Real happiness. Unshakeable happiness that will make other women say, “I want what she has.”
2. Five Minutes Left
A real quick way of realizing what truly matters in your life – I mean truly matters – is to imagine you’ve learned that you only have five minutes left to live. Would the fabric softener stains on your kids’ clothes be important? No. The trash left inside that your husband was supposed to take out? No. Jumping on Facebook one more time? No.
Take a few minutes to do this exercise. Imagine you learned that you have one year left to live, and think about what you’d do with that time, what you’d start doing, what you’d stop doing, and who you’d have around you. Then after playing with that image for 5 minutes, imagine you learned that you only have one month to live. Again, what would you do, who would you want around you, and what wouldn’t be important anymore.
Do the same thing with one day to live, and then one hour to live, and you’ll quickly know what is important to you in your life. And guess what, anything you’ve dropped off the list isn’t important, now or ever. Sure you have to pay your bills, clean your house and make sure your kids get a good education. But this exercise will tell you what is truly important and what’s not.
And here’s the thing – one day, you will only have an hour left to live, but you have no idea when that will be. So knowing that will happen and not knowing when that will be, why not keep the truly important things in your life close to you at all times. In other words, when something “bad” happens and threatens to take away your happiness, ask “Would this matter if I had an hour left to live?” If the answer is “no”, then it is not that important and shouldn’t impact your happiness.
3. Drop the Expectations
This is an easy one. If you have an expectation and it is fulfilled, you really don’t feel much about it, because it was an expectation. When was the last time you flushed the toilet and jumped with joy? Probably never, because you expected the toilet to flush. If you expect your husband to be home at 5pm and he arrives right 5pm, you’re neither happy nor sad – you expected it.
On the other hand if you expect something to happen and it doesn’t, it will almost always lead to disappointment. If you expected to receive something you really wanted for your birthday and didn’t get it, you’d probably feel a little unhappy.
This, too, is easier said than done, but the degree to which you live life without expectations, you will have a proportional degree of happiness.
Try it. Drop a few expectations, you’ll be a little happier. Drop half of your expectations, you’ll double your happiness.
Don’t believe me? How many moms had fairy tale expectations about marriage and motherhood, but were disappointed when it wasn’t what they expected? Again, expectation when not met, leads to disappointment every time.
So next time you’re disappointed, ask yourself “Did I expect something different?” Chances are you did and therefore, your unhappiness is your own doing. (I know, this is hard for me to swallow, too, but it’s true.)
I can hear you saying, “But it is impossible to not have any expectations” and you know what, you’re right. But again it is a simple formula – the degree to which you can drop your expectations is the degree to which you’ll be happier. It’s up to you how much you adopt this.
I hope you find this helpful. We deserve to be happy, but it is easier said than done. These suggestions take much more work than writing happy little post-it notes on your refrigerator or standing in front of the mirror trying to convince yourself you’re wonderful. But if you can do them – even just one of them halfway – you’ll experience more genuine happiness than most people do in a lifetime.
PS: Like the post? Please share it with friends! Need more tips? Download my free eBook, "7 Tricks & Tips to Look & Feel Like Supermom".