Most people aren’t happy most of the time. Sad isn’t it?
Why is this the case? Especially in developed countries the rate of self-reported happiness actually decreases. We have so much and yet we can’t appreciate it.
What’s not to be happy about? Well, unfortunately (and also very fortunately) we humans are incredibly adaptable. We desperately need air, then water, then food. But as we get our basic needs met we adapt. These critical resources are no longer felt as a luxury, every cell in our body starts to take these gifts for granted. Then we want more, love, connection, respect, meaning, purpose, and then contribution and impact. The needs just keep piling up. As we solve one set of problems the problems don’t go away, they are just replaced with a new set of better-quality problems.
This was first described by Maslow’s (see Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs). And as we are so adaptable it basically means we’ll never max out and reach the finish line. There is no destination. It will never be enough.
This adaptation also applies to just trying to get more and more of the same thing that makes you happy. Take food for example, we might really enjoy our favourite food. But after 3 days of eating it, it’s not enough, and we need to seek more and different kinds of food to excite us and make us happy. We adapt to what happens to us, and then it’s no longer enough to stimulate us in the same way, we need MORE! This is known as the Hedonic Treadmill, and it keeps us mildly unsatisfied most of the time.
This adaptation isn’t always a bad thing, it means we can survive in incredibly challenging situations and environments too, because after a while, it just becomes our ’normal’ and we go back to that baseline of mildly unsatisfied. You might then ask yourself, why couldn’t the baseline be ‘mildly satisfied’ instead? Evolution baby! I think it’s safe to say our ancestors who were mildly unsatisfied were more motivated to go out and seek more and better berries and twigs and game (and whatever it was they ate and used), so they ended up thriving and multiplying. Essentially the baseline of ‘mildly unsatisfied’ then got handed down to us through in our genes.
But in 2020, we don’t need to seek out more berries, we have enough to survive and be happy. So if your mindset is to work hard, reach your goal and then allow yourself to be happy (and for many of us that’s what we were taught from an early age by our parents and teachers etc) then I’m sorry to say… you will never be happy.
This is where we need to be happy along the journey towards this unreachable destination.
How? Just choose to be happy. Start now. Be happy. 3, 2, 1… Go.
For many of us it’s just not that simple. There are so many reasons not to just be happy that pop up for us:
- But I have work to do, kids to feed, bills to pay
- I have a big goal to meet. I can’t get distracted being happy. If I’m happy now what will I reward myself once I reach my goal. Stay focussed, stay motivated, stay unhappy!
- Be realistic! Bad things happen. Fact.
- I don’t want to be disrespectful of those having a tough time.
- I don’t want to stand out (tall poppy) and get cut down.
- I don’t want to wear rose coloured glasses and be a chump, or miss some important risk.
- Deep down I may actually kinda like being a victim. It keeps me safe from the expectations of myself and others. If I play small and blame X (insert excuse here) then I won’t disappoint anyone or myself. EXCEPT I AM DISAPPOINTING MYSELF!
For me it always comes back to USEFUL > CORRECT. It may not be accurate to look at the bright side all the time, but heck it makes life easier to bear and makes you more resilient and successful.
In the book Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, he challenged the idea that you need to wait until you’re successful to then be happy. In fact, he demonstrates the research shows success doesn’t lead to happiness, but luckily: happiness does lead to success. Thank goodness for that! Now I know I must embrace happiness if I want to succeed.
And as for rose-coloured glasses. No, don’t you dare paper over negative emotions. Yes bad things happen. No you don’t want to just wear a Pollyanna mask all the time. Authenticity is one of those over-arching values I would champion you hold onto. This is just about allowing yourself to be authentically happy when you’re happy. And allowing yourself to view everything that comes your way as positively as possible while staying true to your values.
Wouldn’t it be nice to put down those incredibly heavy bags and just be happy? Because I guarantee there are extremely few (if any) good reasons not to be.
How do I know if I’m doing this already? It’s a tricky one. The self-awareness comes with practise. I find I need to check in with myself periodically and just see if I’m doing any of the following:
- Frowning / furrowing my brow
- Holding my breath or shallow breathing
- Can I feel any anxious sensations in my body, chest or sick feeling in the stomach
- Am I feeling “wired” like I’m stressed. My sympathetic nervous system is engaged? Ready to fight, flee or freeze?
Or on the flipside…
- Do I feel like I could crack a joke or have a laugh if someone told me something funny?
- Do I feel like I could dance like nobody was watching (if nobody was watching)? Haha
- Am I feeling happy, calm, relaxed and grateful? Seems a little too easy right, but check in and ask yourself now, am I happy?
If not then… Houston, we have a problem.
Now to be fair, life can be stressful. So you need a few little tricks up your sleeve to stay relaxed throughout the day as pressure sneaks up on you. I recommend exercise, breathing, grounding, and sighing! And then if these little interventions aren’t enough, you may need to look at changing what you do, and clarifying why you do it. If it’s too much pressure and you’re not passionate about it, you’re making your life more difficult than it needs to be.
But it’s just not that easy right?!
If you understand the above and yet you still struggle with choosing happiness, don’t beat yourself up. It’s usually not as simple as just consciously deciding to be happy. For most people there are deeply embedded emotional events and/or trauma and/or limiting beliefs from early on in your life.
This is a great reason to talk to a coach about how they can shift that baggage!
What are you waiting for? It’s only your own blissfully happy life that awaits your next move. Go on. Be happy.