Why We’re Not REALLY Happy. About two years ago, I realized I wasn’t really happy. It was an unexpected realization, as I had a great life by most standards. But something was off. Not can’t-get-out-bed or randomly-burst-into-tears kind of off by any means. On the outside, I was thoroughly enjoying my great life. But deep inside, I just felt bleh. Unmotivated. Uninspired. Restless.
Turns out – this is a common feeling. So many of us don’t feel fulfilled in our lives. Why? Because we’ve found countless reasons not to really live them.
But it’s a New Year – a time of self-reflection and change; a time of resolutions and goals. So as you think about this year and what you want out of it, ask yourself if you are really happy… I’m talking down-to-your-core kind of happy. And be honest with your answer.
If it is “no”… and it’s okay if it is… do not worry. You’re not alone. And you can change it.
Now unarm your defense mechanisms, open your mind, take a deep breath, and let’s get real…
We’re Too Attached
First and foremost, we need to stop defining our life, our success, and our happiness according to anything (or anyone) other than how we want to define it. We live in a culture where our lives are seemingly mapped out for us. There is a mainstream; a normal; a how it’s supposed to be… and then there is what we want. And those might not always match up. Yet we try so hard to fit the mold that is laid out in front of us…
A path we are not-so-subtly led down at almost every life turn.
In high school, we are asked where we will go to college. In college, what our job will be when we graduate. We start dating someone and we are asked when we will get married. We get married and we are asked when we will have a baby. It’s like the leading questions never end. We are stuck on this “normal path” of life.
And the attachment goes beyond the basic plot of our lives… we are attached to ideas as well. Ideas we think will mend the pain from attempting to squeeze into a life that doesn’t fit. We think a promotion will make us fulfilled at work. Having another baby will revive our marriage. A bigger house will make life easier. A vacation will relieve our stress. A new car will make us more confident. Losing weight will make us feel pretty. We cling to these ideas. And when they don’t work, we blindly jump to the next one… desperate to fill a happiness void we don’t fully understand.
But what would happen if we let go of all the attachments? All the “way it’s supposed to be”? What if we stopped trying to make the life we think we are supposed to have fit, and instead figure out what the life we really want looks like?
Maybe it’s a life without a ring, a resume, or a permanent address. Maybe it’s a life where mystery supersedes a plan and success is redefined daily. Perhaps we can only fill the void if we expand the material options for the fabric of our lives.
Yet We’re Disconnected
Somewhere along the way we lost touch with that little voice inside us… some call it our gut, others call it intuition. It’s the voice that speaks up for us and things we want for no other reason than we want them. It’s the voice that often goes against all logic and reason.
And it’s gotten lost among all the other voices who have strong opinions about our lives, from our mothers to mainstream media. While attempting to satisfy all the voices and fit all the molds, we have lost touch with that voice… and with who we really are.
And because we are disconnected from ourselves, we are unable to truly connect with anyone else. Thanks to social media, our “friends” know where we stand politically, what we ate for lunch yesterday, and saw our children hours after they were born. But who knows the real us? Who hears the thoughts, ideas, fears, and desires that race through our minds in bed at night? Who hears that voice?
No one can hear it if we never use it. If we don’t even hear it. If it’s pushed aside and overshadowed by all the noise of our daily grind.
Our Passion is on the Backburner
Remember when you were a kid and people would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What was your answer? It likely started out as something really cool and exciting… then you got older and your answer changed to something you thought was realistic based on your education, your experience, the income you wanted to earn, or the opportunities you thought you would/wouldn’t have. Maybe you had no idea what you wanted to do so you just took a job… and that job ended up defining the entire trajectory of your next several jobs. And before you knew it you had a career you didn’t really choose.
It’s a job.
It challenges me.
It pays the bills.
(insert other justifications we tell ourselves)
Not exactly the definition of fulfillment.
My point is this – we aren’t doing what we truly love doing. Because somewhere along the way our answers to what we want to be when we grow up were squashed. They were overshadowed by what’s supposedly possible for us and what’s expected of us. So instead of living our dream every day, we are doing what we think we have to do… or should do… or are stuck doing.
Our job is just that – a job. It’s what we get through during the week while counting down the days until the weekend. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Work can – and should – be our passion.
So the big question is – what is your passion? What would you do for free? If you didn’t need money, how would you spend your days?
If you don’t think you know the answer, you’re wrong. You do know. It’s just hidden under years and years, and layers and layers of what you’re supposed to do thoughts… what’s realistic thoughts… what’s normal thoughts. Think back to your childhood – what are the things you imagined doing? What were your daydreams? What made you happy? Therein lies your answer… or at least a direction to head in. We all have a passion. Some of them are obscure; some of them are random; but all of them are needed.
If you already know what that is for you, then there is only one reason you aren’t pursuing it… and that reason is fear. Fear you don’t have the skill, fear you will fail, fear you won’t make enough money, fear others will judge you, fear you’ve missed your chance, fear, fear, fear. To that I ask one of my favorite questions, borrowed from self-inquiry expert Byron Katie – is it true? Are your fears true? Do you know you don’t have what it takes? Do you know it’s too late? Do you know it’s not possible? The answer is NO. You don’t know that because there is no way to know that. Yet we assume the negative and allow that assumption to hold us back.
There’s a quote from essayist and novelist Pico Iyer that blew my mind when I first heard it – “the what if points in both directions.” It’s so true. Everything you want to happen is just as possible as everything you fear will happen. You will only know once you try… and trying certainly sounds more fun than sleep walking around your current job all day.
We’re Escape Artists
If your answer to how you would spend your days is watch TV, play video games, get drunk, or anything that essentially pulls you out of your actual life, then you have a little more work to do than changing career paths. You have to ponder one question – why do you want to escape your life?
I’m not talking about the occasional need to zone out or let loose. There is a big difference between a short break from reality and constantly evading it.
Life can be difficult. And as a coping mechanism, we often avoid dealing with the really tough stuff. Instead, we hide from it. Research Professor Brené Brown calls it numbing. But numbing is just a band aid… and a crappy one at that. Eventually you bleed through it. The only way to close the wound is to face it.
You can’t outrun whatever you are trying to escape – whether it be a current situation or a past one. But you can confront it… then either make peace with it or change it. Only then will you put down your distractions, rejoin reality, and fully engage in life.
You have a passion. You have interests. There are things you want to try, things you want to learn, and things you want to experience. These things are as much a part of you as anything else… but you can’t see them when you aren’t facing your life.
We’ve Forgotten How to Love Ourselves
We have to actually be ourselves in order to fully love ourselves. We are all unique and special in our own way… even a little weird. When we were kids, we embraced this… showing it off to the world every chance we got through crazy outfits, imaginary friends, and quirky personalities. Then very slowly, over time, we were taught to conform. To be normal. To fall in line. To fit the mold.
We learned this through failure… through rejection… through judgment… and through embarrassment. Fear convinced us to hold back so we wouldn’t fall; quiet our voice so we wouldn’t be hushed; close our heart so we wouldn’t get hurt.
But that isn’t love. Love is going back to embracing all things us – our uniqueness and even our weirdness. Love is letting our voice be heard… and listening to each other’s. Love is letting go of all our fears, so we can set our real selves free.
So if you want to be happy… I’m talking REALLY happy… you have to get back to your true self. Forget all the definitions of life that aren’t yours. Reconnect with your inner voice… then let others hear it. Find your interests. Take the time to do them. Share yourself, your talents, and your passion with the world. Create a life you don’t want to escape.
The journey might be difficult at times. But it’s worth it. No matter how off track you are – be it a few feet or many miles – it is never too late to be a really happy you.
Guest Post by Kacie Main