One of the most common goals people express is their desire to be happy.
As Americans, our Declaration of Independence speaks to our right to the “pursuit of happiness” ie our RIGHT to chase whatever our subjective happiness may be. We have a right to PURSUE happiness but obtaining it is not a given.
As a culture, we spend boatloads of money trying to figure out what EXACTLY personal happiness means to us. For Americans, happiness is almost an OBSESSION. The desire for it is woven into the fabric of our culture but in other parts of the world happiness is held in less esteem.
Often people turn to counseling with the objective “to be happier” at the end of the treatment process. Many of us search for happiness like the holy grail.
But happiness as a goal is not desired by all. The truth is not everyone wants to be happy.
Now many people would deny that being the case. I find most people readily admit to others they WANT to be happy. But their thoughts and actions denote otherwise.
People often destroy their own happiness. THEY themselves destroy it. It can be painful to watch someone behave in such a self-destructive manner.
It plays out in a familiar fashion.
People hold onto relationships (romantic, familial, friendships) that make them feel bad. People continue in jobs that make them miserable. People give their power away to others–allowing other people to make them feel less than or ruin their days. People treat others poorly then wonder why they are lonely. People hold onto bad habits at the expense of their mental and physical well-being.
People negatively judge others. People negatively judge themselves. They think they need to be perfect to be loved. They seek the approval of others but do not give such approval to themselves.
People commonly obsess about the past. People often worry about the future. People frequently ruminate over things they can’t change–namely anything in the external world outside of themself.
People let their ego grow out of control. People procrastinate their ambition. People keep toxic people in their life. People continue being their own worst critic. People push people they love away. People give up before they even start.
The truth is many people at a certain point in life settle. People settle for a life that does not bring them the happiness they desire. The moment a person chooses to settle is the moment them begin a slow death on the inside.
As a counselor, if a client tells me that want to be happy, my automatic response is, WHAT does happiness mean for you? Because the truth is happiness can look quite different depending on who you ask. Happiness is not one universal outcome.
So why isn’t someone happy with their life? The answer is often simple. Many people are not happy because they don’t really want to be.
I am not talking about people who have extenuating tough life circumstances: homelessness, unemployment, cancer, clinical depression, etc. I am talking people with no EXTREME trying life circumstance in their current day-to-day life.
I believe many of us know someone on paper who has no reason to be unhappy-financial secure, healthy, good relationships, etc. But when you are around them, you can tell you are in the presence of a person who is unhappy despite seemingly positive circumstances.
Many of us scratch our head to understand why someone who seemingly has it all going for them seems so UNHAPPY.
Of course, we never know what mental health struggles a person is facing behind closed-doors. And for those people we should have the utmost compassion.
But for other people…they are not happy because they are pursuing conditional happiness. Conditional happiness is everything goes your way and you are happy. Almost everybody attempts to do it this way but this approach doesn’t work.
Just think about it. As soon as one thing does NOT go your way, which is inevitable, you will be unhappy. Thus the odds of being happy from a mindset of conditional happiness is low. There are too many external factors we cannot control.
Unconditional happiness–having the mindset that you will be happy DESPITE the fact everything does not go your way. This is more conducive to living a fulfilling life. You will be happy FOR THE MOST PART no matter WHAT because your happiness is not dependent on the outside world to affirm it.
Can you tolerate that? Can you feel a sense of happiness REGARDLESS of what is going on in the external world? Can you feel happy even if you do not like the circumstances of the outside world?
If you are dependent on the external world to be a certain way to be happy, you are going to live a very unhappy life. We need a cultivate a sense of happiness that is not dependent on the external world complying with our wishes. Having rules and conditions on other people, on outside circumstances, and the world at large is a recipe for UNhappiness.
Tell me if this sounds familiar…
Do you ever say to yourself, “I will be happy WHEN……fill in the blank” (when I lose weight, when I get that promotion, when my son graduates high school, when my parents get along, when my spouse retires, when I have enough money in my bank account, etc.).
If you are living with a “I will be happy WHEN” mindset you will NEVER be happy.
You are creating dogmatic rules for what you need to be happy, many of which are dependent on other people OR the external world to give it to you.
The key to overcoming this approach is to focus on WHY you need certain things to be a certain way to ALLOW yourself to be happy. You can live your whole life waiting on circumstances to align and the day will never come. Putting your happiness on hold is doing a disservice to you and YOU alone.
Some tips to help you:
1)Remind yourself of all the blessings in your life. Too often we focus on the one thing we DON’T have instead of all the things we DO have. “First world problems” is something I will say to myself when I find myself getting down on something that on a global scale is irrelevant.
2)Remember at any time you can lose one of the blessings YOU do have. Someone you love. Your job. Your health. We need to start appreciating the IMPERFECT things we do have while we still have them. Life throws curveballs.
3)Disengage from people who steal the happiness you DO have. The Negative Nancy. The Debbie Downer. The Sour Sally. The Judgmental Jane. Pretty much anyone who does not seem to wish you happiness (in all likelihood they do not wish happiness for themselves either). Make sure you surround yourself with a good support system.
4)Don’t let disappointment destroy your happiness. We all get disappointed from time to time. It is an unfortunate part of life. Check your expectations and see what role you had in setting yourself up for said disappointment. Let go of hurt, unfulfilled expectations, and disappointment. You are not doing this for the outside world but for YOU. Do not give your happiness away to anything OUTSIDE of YOURSELF. Take positive steps to improve but enjoy yourself in the process.
The question is DO YOU WANT TO BE HAPPY? Or do you want to continue to live your life with conditional happiness? The choice is yours.
The bottom line is this: YOU and YOU alone are responsible for the conditions of your life. So instead of putting your happiness on hold, find opportunities to be more fulfilled. Not tomorrow but TODAY. If there are not opportunities, CREATE opportunities. Life, as we all have heard, is more about the journey than the destination.
Stop waiting for circumstances to be “just right” to allow yourself to be HAPPY.
And if you need help with this, counseling is a great place to start on your journey to unconditional happiness.
To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
Anew Counseling Services LLC
617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649