If there is one bit of happiness truth that has always resonated with me, it’s this: True happiness doesn’t mean that you’re happy — or even in a good mood — all of the time.
I don’t remember the first time someone said this to me, but I do know how it makes me feel every time I remind myself of it: like everything will be OK.
I am a total product of my culture. I was born in Louisiana in 1985, and I’ve lived in the United States my entire life. While I love to travel and experience as many cultures and influences as possible, I have definitely been exposed to — and believed in — the idea that happiness is the ultimate goal.
It’s the American way! Right?
And honestly, I don’t think there’s a lot wrong with aspiring to be happy or with manifesting happiness in your day-to-day life. I think where we tend to go wrong, however, is when we place too much emphasis on (a) happiness as the ultimate pursuit, and (b) the idea that happiness means we are happy in every moment of every day. The latter is particularly dangerous because it makes you wonder: What are you if you’re not happy? Are you doing it all wrong?
So the idea that true happiness is just you being your regular human self is wildly encouraging and comforting to me. Here a few reasons why a life lived with emotional authenticity is a life lived with more power and, ultimately, more happiness:
1. Emotional maturity will help you with everything you do.
I am such a big believer in developing emotional maturity. We really emphasize honing in on empathy in our home — and also being able to name and understand all our feelings. That doesn’t mean that we don’t each experience intense bouts of confusion, because we absolutely do. But it does mean that we put a lot of emphasis on being able to say, “I am just really confused right now; can you explain what you mean in another way?” and things like that.
I really believe that being able to describe your emotions and those of others will go a long way toward nurturing happiness in your self.
2. Focusing too much on happiness might actually make you unhappy.
If you spend too much time thinking about being happy, happiness itself might bypass you completely. I am just about as Capricorn as it gets, meaning that I live and die by the expectations that I place on myself, but I try really hard to not get caught up in feelings of failure when I don’t meet every single one of them.
Wanting to experience positive feelings as a goal is admirable and even important, but setting yourself up for failure will usually only result in negativity and self-doubt. I have found that it’s really helpful to make actionable lists for each goal I have, and then to break those lists down into smaller steps I can take toward my ultimate goal. That way, I don’t do too much, too fast, and I reduce the risk of not doing anything at all.
3. Things probably won't go how you plan them, anyway.
As a planner, this has always been a haaaard truth for me to swallow, but it’s real: A whole host of life experiences rarely go as planned. I have found that, for me, letting go of the expectation that my plan will come to fruition has been helpful in my journey toward a happy medium.
But … it’s also OK if I get down when my plan doesn’t go as I wanted it to. It’s what happens, and experiencing this kind of life disarray is good for us all. Right? I mean, I want it to be good for us. Let’s just say I’m still working on this one.
4. No one's life is really what it looks like.
I have probably read 85 million think pieces about how the internet is a lie and social media is untrue and no one’s life looks like what we see on Instagram and Facebook. And you know what? It’s true. But that doesn’t stop most of us from aspiring to be like what we see on social media.
I personally try to be really honest on social media; I’m a big believer in the idea that “what you see is what you get.” But having said that, I also deliberately share only a small fraction of my life. For example, my kid rarely makes an appearance these days, because his stories aren’t mine to tell. And you know I’m not putting every disagreement I have with my husband online. I also usually don’t post about things that are disappointing, unless I think there’s some kind of larger shared experience behind it that might help someone else (off-topic, but that is actually my favorite use of social media).
So if you put a lot of weight on what you see when you’re scrolling through a feed, I get it. It’s human. It’s also human to experience feelings of loss, confusion, fear of missing out, or downright depression in response to what you see and how you feel your life does or doesn’t match up. But I, along with 85 million other writers, encourage you to focus on what you do have in your life that is working for you and to remember that every single person behind a device has more in common with you than you think.
5. Happiness is not an end destination.
More than anything, I think the idea that happiness as an ending point is what has caused a lot of damage culturally. When we think about happiness being a place we get to, it’s hard. Where are we if we aren’t there yet? Will we ever get there?
Also: What happens if you DO get there? Is it only downhill from that point?
I like to think of happiness as one of the many feelings I hope to experience each day. I hope to experience happiness right alongside other feelings that might pop up: anger, sadness, being hangry, joy, loss, sorrow, and so on. There are so many possibilities, and each is just as valid as the one that comes before or after it.
As they say (don’t ask me who), it’s in the journey, friends.