There is no shortage of advice out there on being happy. Happiness is such a subjective idea that it’s hard to nail down things that are true for everybody. Even the most ancient of wisdom can occur to us as nothing but simple platitudes that have no bearing on present day life.
There’s also a plethora of bad advice. Things that sound good, but have no real meat to them. Their intentions are good, but they really have no substance in reality. We’ve all heard this type of advice. “Just be yourself.” “Don’t cry.” (How many times do you want to punch someone for telling you that one?) If you could just DO those things, you’d have done them a long time ago, wouldn’t you have?
This post is not about those types of things. These are the lies we tell ourselves about being happy. Our biggest setbacks come from our blind spots: things we don’t see about ourselves until someone points them out. If you’re a growth minded person, you appreciate those people who point out your blind spots. However, most of the time our response to such things is anger. Aggression. When someone challenges a deeply held belief, we struggle to let it go because it serves to protect us (even if it’s doing more harm than good).
I want to challenge you to look at the lies you are telling yourself about being happy, because I want you to grow beyond who you think you can become. You can’t reach new ground until you leave the old ground behind. You can’t have new experience until you let go of the past. We cling to the past because it’s comforting, but if we live in the past we miss the opportunities of the present.
Lie #1: I will be happy when I ____
This is a good one. I’ve been through many periods of financial struggle in my life. There have been moments when I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and my next paycheck was a week away. Figuring out what you intend to eat during those times is fun. You get awfully creative with the food you have laying around the house. Tell me you’ve never tried to doctor ramen noodles before.
There’s a twofold happy sucker getting at you during those times. First, your focus is no longer on the present because you keep counting the days until your next paycheck. And, second, you are filled with anxiety and worry about not being able to make it to your next paycheck without something major happening to you. It’s the double sided sword of worry and anxiety, and it slices through your happiness like a sushi knife.
But what if you could be happy in that state? Your happiness is a product of the things you believe and the things you expect. Your expectation is that you can only be happy if you have enough money to live comfortably. It’s the security of knowing how you will solve a problem if it arises that gives you peace when you have money.
The point is that your happiness isn’t dependent on anything you have. You would be no more happy with a million dollars than you would with a salary of $80k per year (I’ve linked to this research before, but here it is). Money can’t buy happiness. That’s the cold truth. So stop pretending you’ll be happier when you have more money. Or more time. Or ____. You fill in the blank. Any answer you put there will be a lie. Happiness is a product of the way you perceive your circumstances. If you want to be happier, practice cultivating more gratitude.
Lie #2: Being Happy is a Journey, not a Destination
This one is a dark lie. It suggests that you can only be happy when you are pursuing something rather than when you have it. I suppose it comes from our capitalist society that dictates that we must always be doing something or buying something to keep our economy strong. The trouble is, our bodies break down. We get old. There comes a time when we are no longer able to pursue. So, do we resign ourselves to quiet misery until we die?
Again, I’ll reiterate: happiness is a mindset. It’s a collection of thoughts, beliefs, and expectations about the world. You create these thoughts best through experience, but it’s not the only way to create them. Experience is just the most efficient way to do so.
In this sense, then, being happy is neither the journey nor the destination. It’s your thoughts about the journey and its destination. When you are able to change your circumstance, do so. However, there are some things we cannot change. There are some things we will just have to accept. Or sacrifice our happiness wishing them away.
Lie #3: I can’t be happy with a certain person in my life
This may be the hardest lie of all to face, especially if the person you are talking about is someone that you love who has died. I’ve been faced with the potential loss of my mother this year. The idea tears me up inside. The loss of someone so fundamental to us can really shake up our lives and what we perceive our role to be in life.
We also are struck with a bit of guilt. How can I just move on from someone I loved so much? Isn’t moving on a disservice to their memory? First, the people who love us want us to be happy. Second, we can still honor the memory of someone and move on to a happy life without them. Grief is a very real part of life. We should never avoid it or pretend like it doesn’t exist.
In this life, this beautiful but hard life, we are challenged to break through our lowest moments until we become who we know we are meant to be. You don’t achieve breakthrough by avoiding those negative emotions. You feel them. Process them. Live with them. And then we let them go. If there’s anything that is constant about this life, it’s that we are constantly challenged to let go. We must live in the present, not the past. But we need not forget our past, just don’t dwell on it.
What is the mindset that allows you to honor the memory of the person you love without forcing you to live your life wallowing in grief? I challenge you to find that mindset today. Cry the tears that are welling up within you. Feel the loss and pain left by the absence of that person in your life. Acknowledge that they will always be a part of you because they took part in shaping you. Then, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and take another step forward. It’s time to create something new.