Stop trying to be happy! Just, stop it! Many of us aspire to happiness as a life goal. How many times have you said, or heard the words, “I just want to be happy!” This article is about how to change your perspective on happiness so that you will experience more happiness (as well as other things).
It’s a myth
The interesting thing about happiness is that it’s a kind of cultural myth. It doesn’t actually exist as a state of being. It’s not a place that you can reach. When you understand and accept this, you will find yourself in a place of peace that actually endures.
When I ask my clients what their hopes for therapy might be, they often tell me: “I just want to be happy”. Most people see happiness as a destination – it’s a far off place, with a lot of things to overcome or that need to be in place before you can get there.
Don’t be like us when we go on holiday
Whenever our family goes on holiday, it starts with chaos. And many obstacles to overcome. Firstly, there’s all the details we have to finalise. Then there’s the packing, repacking, and re-repacking again because one suitcase seems impossibly small. And someone who shall remain nameless wants to bring an entire pharmacy because she doesn’t trust the availability of medicines.
The horrible smells
When we’ve gotten through the prep, there’s the joys of being stuck in a can of farts for hours at a time. Whether it is a car, a bus, or an aeroplane, the farts are always the same. Nasty. Even on a boat we’re not safe, because the hideous (and infectious) sounds of retching are highly likely to accompany any choppiness and let’s face it, it’s almost never smooth sailing when we’re on board. Overall, our journeys to any holiday destination are something that instead of making us happy, we need days to recover from.
Happiness is temporary
But happiness isn’t a state of being in which you can rest and simply ‘be’. That’s because happiness is just a feeling, like any other feeling. Like sadness, pain, pleasure, discontent, anger, joy… happiness is an emotion. And, like any other emotion, it’s temporary.
One or other emotion may dominate for a particular period of time, but sooner or later, your emotions will change, much like the weather.
So can you ever truly be happy?
Instead of aspiring to happiness, which is a peak experience, it’s more helpful to aspire to a state of acceptance. Of being ok with whatever emotional ‘weather’ is occurring in your personal life.
Trying to be happy makes you miserable
This is far more achievable than trying to be happy, which leaves you feeling terribly discontented. In all the years of travelling, our family generally makes the big mistake of expecting to be happy on the way there. And when this expectation isn’t met, we get madder than a nest of hornets that someone just poked with a stick. Which of course makes everything so much harder.
You can feel all kinds of emotions at the same time
You might think that happiness is when you feel more positive emotions than negative emotions overall. But humans are complex creatures and can experience many conflicting emotions at the same time.
You’re likely to experience a whole range of ‘negative’ emotions when you face a painful loss, including shock, disbelief, sadness, anger, fear, grief and so on, but these emotions are healthy responses. Accepting them as they are is an essential part of the healing process.
Emotions come and go
Some things you’d expect to make you happy, like going on holiday, graduating from a course of study, getting your dream job or earning a big bonus is likely to make you feel very happy in the moment. But most of the time the happiness you feel is short-lived. All it takes is for something to happen that you perceive as negative, or even something that distracts you, and different feelings take over. That happy feeling just disappears and sometimes doesn’t return.
Acceptance is key
Of course it’s hard to be happy when you’re hungry and tired, when your children are sick, when something bad has happened, or you’re battling some kind of illness. But you can always accept what is. And this acceptance holds significant personal power and freedom.
Instead of chasing the illusion of happiness, you can cultivate an attitude of acceptance. of being ok with where and who you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with. Instead of judging your emotions as good or bad, you can accept them as is and allow them to be what they are while you get on with living your life.
Allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions
You can’t be happy all of the time but you can choose to be in a state of acceptance that allows you to authentically feel the full range of emotions but with an undercurrent of peace. Your mind can be like a deep lake, which no matter how ruffled it may get on the surface, remains still and calm underneath.
If you want to explore this concept further, a really great book to read is The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
Blue-Footed Booby Success Formula # 1: How to stop trying to be happy and become more accepting
- Stop and take a deep breath
- Check in with yourself- look inside and ask yourself: How are you?
- Identify whatever emotions you feel and acknowledge them as they are – Name it to tame it!
- Say helpful things to yourself. Like anything positive that comforts you!
- Do something that gets you out of your head and into your body.