At some point in life—probably when we’re just old enough to understand the concept of goals and achieving them—we’re taught that happiness is something to strive for. And that it’s tied up in the milestones of life—getting that promotion, making a lot of money, graduating, getting married, you get the picture.
The problem is, this notion of happiness becomes a constant chase and we’re always moving the target.
Since money worries make us stressed, we assume more money might be the key to happiness. In an episode of Armchair Expert, Dax and Monica interview the great Julia Louis-Dreyfus and they talk about how they always felt that if they got to that one financial milestone they would feel better, and as both Dax and JLD both passed that milestone (and many more I’m sure), that feeling of content never came. Like we talked about last week, when we look outside ourselves for happiness, we no longer have agency over our own happiness and count on others to make us happy or we depend on things to fill us up — I’m looking at you Instagram.
The other problem is that the pursuit of happiness is also often based on the idea that happiness means joyfulness and excitement. But humans aren’t designed to stay perpetually excited or joyful. For one, that would be exhausting and two I kinda enjoy those days where I listen to a sad, soulful song on repeat and cry in the shower. Just me?
ANYWAY striving for happiness may then feel like a disappointment when you realize that joy and excitement cannot last indefinitely.
It also makes us believe that happiness is out of your grasp. If you’re not able to be in the present moment, you’re actually avoiding experiencing what’s happening right now, which is not always going to be joy, happiness, or pleasure. It can be pain; it can be sadness; it can be loss. It can be disappointment. We end up repressing, denying, or distracting ourselves from these feelings so we can keep focusing on this elusive goal.
Speaking of these elusive goals, we are absolutely fixated on milestones that we think are tied to happiness. And when we don’t hit them it feels terrible. We not only become disappointed, we become distant. Maybe you start to criticize yourself, maybe you start to feel guilty for not feeling happy that you’ve gotten this ‘thing’.
Getting to a place where happiness becomes a state of being rather than a future goal takes some practice.
Live in alignment with your values. Write them out if that helps you.
Try to be completely engaged in something you enjoy. Whether that’s riding a bike, baking cookies, even the whole routine of washing, drying and styling your hair. Whatever it is you can achieve that flow when you become fully absorbed in something you’re doing.
The hunt for happiness doesn’t need to involve chasing after something; it’s more about seeing what’s already here and learning to appreciate by trying these kinds of mindfulness strategies.