Why I stopped chasing happiness

I shared earlier this year about joining Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project experience for 2019. I haven’t gone after it as hard this month because I haven’t entirely embraced the theme. It’s ‘friends’ if you must know, and I find myself already pretty happy in that category. I’m a less-is-more being where relationships are concerned because…introvert, but I am still plugging away at it.

Some changes are easier than others while some are downright difficult. A few times I have occasionally found myself asking, Why am I doing this? Doing this, right now, doesn’t make me happy. And then I experienced my lightbulb moment:

Happiness isn’t the goal. Happiness is a by-product of working towards the goal.

Me

Happiness is a funny creature, elusive and fickle. The things which made us happy last week, may not make us happy next week. Or a great, big happy day might be entirely demolished in one toxic interaction. When we aren’t ‘happy enough,’ we get caught in a guilt spiral because we have so much to be happy about but we’re not happy so what the hell is wrong with us anyway? Or maybe I’m the only one on that particular crazy train.

Let’s face it, many of you reading here are much like me. We have more than we know what to do with of privilege in this life, but we still spend a reckless amount of time wishing something or some things were different. The contemplatives called this state ennui. We’re bored and tired with where we are, but we don’t have the time or the energy to change it.

The Happiness Project Experience is helping me look at life through a new lens. Rather than having to accept the way things are, I can tweak them, or change them or when I’m feeling really brave, I chuck something out the window entirely. You don’t fit in my life and I’m done making space for you. You’re out! It also gives me permission to fail, fall and change my mind. My recovering inner-perfectionist is grateful.

If I’ve learned anything in forty-five years it’s that change isn’t easy. What’s easy is staying in our learned patterns and familiar behaviors. They may not be what we want them to be, but they are better than veering off on an unknown course. We may not agree, mentally and emotionally with this truth, but it doesn’t stop us from living it out a majority of the time.

Change doesn’t always make me happy. Sometimes it makes me cranky. But when I’m willing to sit with uncertainly and unfamiliarity for long enough, I often find a greater level of happiness than if I had avoided change. Happy may not be how I feel in the moment, but it is the by-product of short-term discomfort. Since avoiding discomfort is humanity’s default setting, this concept flies in the face of seeking ‘the good life.’ Much like a butterfly, chasing happiness only results in frustration. It’s better to let the butterfly find us, usually when we don’t expect it.

Hunky and I spent the better part of 2018 deciding what we don’t want in our lives as we move forward. I believe this is a necessary sort of inventory especially after a major life transition. But it isn’t enough just to empty a space, whether a room or a soul, of the things which no longer belong there. Eventually, it’s time to repopulate that space with new and beautiful concepts and ideas. That’s kind of where we are now. We know what we don’t want, and now we’re learning what we do want. (Yes, I am well aware that the freedom to make these kinds of choices is a result of privilege. I don’t take that lightly either.)

I’ve shared before that unmaking a thing, whether a system of belief, a long worked on project, or an entire way of life is a painful and oftentimes lonely endeavor. But, now that I am on the other side of the experience, I wouldn’t trade that time for any part of the life I had before. I wasn’t “happy” going through it (though let’s be honest, the day I realized I never had to go to church again was one of the happiest of my life), but I am happier now in almost every imaginable way.

So here we are at the fun part, deciding how we want to shape our lives for the second half. It’s almost like the day we first walked across the threshhold of our apartment as a newly-wed couple, exhausted from moving, giddy with excitement, facing a great deal of work ahead. We can just stay safely in the patterns we are in and survive, or we can do something different and experience deep and meaningful satisfaction with the new life we are creating.

This space is place to share the ways we’re changing from who we have been into who we are becoming, and the tools we’re using to help us along the way.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

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