Do you ever feel you should be happier, but you aren’t? Do you count the many blessings in your life, only to wonder why you aren’t walking around feeling elated all the time?
It seems you aren’t the only one.
When Mary Jaksch from Goodlife Zen posted “Is Happiness Overrated?” I was honestly shocked.
After all, Mary’s own About section says, “I’m passionate about supporting people who want to lead a happier and more meaningful life.” So if Mary is getting tired of talking about happiness, I can almost guarantee you are.
Here’s the thing: I bet you aren’t tired of experiencing happiness. Am I right?
And yet many of us seem to be doing so poorly at it. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, only 31% of 18- to 29-year olds say they are “very happy.” The number goes down to 27% for 30- to 45-year olds.
But the same study revealed 83% of Americans aged 16 and up were pretty or very happy. Does anyone else find that data a tad contradictory? Do we even know what we’re talking about?
The problem with positive psychology is the word happy has been corrupted. It happens to words all the time–good words, words who have done nothing wrong. Just look at what’s happened to poor passion.
So when we say only 31% of our youth report themselves as “very happy,” what does that really mean? Should we be concerned or not?
I’ll tell you what really concerns me: when we let warped definitions stand in the way of a worthy goal.
The only thing you need to know about happiness: it’s a struggle
I subscribe to Jennifer Michael Hecht’s definition of happiness (well worth reading), taken from her book The Happiness Myth. She talks about finding the right balance in your life between a good day, euphoria, and a happy life. The problem is that the definition is somewhat circular, citing “a happy life” as a key component of, uhhh, happiness.
Despite all the positive psychology news of late, the last word on happiness was spoken about 2300 years ago. Aristotle, as the WSJ article explains, advised us to pursue eudaimonia, which some experts interpret as well-being more than happiness. This comes from realizing your potential, setting audacious goals and achieving them, and taking risks to realize success.
When most people talk about happiness, they are using a relatively narrow definition akin to hedonism, or short term happiness. It’s what you experience when you eat a good meal or watch the rain fall on a lazy afternoon.
When I say happiness is a struggle, I mean that in the truest sense. The kinds of activities that result in Aristotle’s eudaimonia are often in direct competition with hedonistic pleasures.
If we place too much importance on immediate gratification, we put off the work that’s required for big time emotional gains. But when we’re immersed in grand challenges, we forget to make time for the small joys in life or when we do partake, fail to fully enjoy them.
And that’s okay. As Dr. Deiner, a retired positive psychology professor from the University of Illinois said
To improve feelings of happiness and eudaimonia, focus on relationships and work that you love. Quit sitting around worrying about yourself and get focused on your goals.
You don’t say! Here are some resources to help.
Mutually assured happiness: 10 ways to arm yourself
1. How to be Happy (no fairy dust or moonbeams required): Cara Stein impresses me. She writes some of the smartest stuff on happiness on the internet, maybe because she’s one of the few who has personally outsmarted despair. What’s also cool is the book, which is free, includes instructions so you can print it, fold it in half, and bind it in about ten minutes. Makes me happy just thinking about it.
2. The Little Guide to Un-Procrastination: Never underestimate procrastination and its ability to make you feel bad. At the heart of the problem is fear, and Leo Babauta offers workable solutions to combat it. I was fortunate to get an advance copy of this and can tell you from experience these ideas work. If you have some big goals you’d like to tackle in pursuit of eudaimonia, you need this book.
3. Overachievement versus high performance: This is another case where it’s easy to get lost in the definition of terms, but there are enough good nuggets here I’m passing it on. As one of the commenters said, “I have met the enemy and it is me.”
4. Stefan Sagmeister: the power of time off: I really, really needed to watch this video. In fact, it’s the second time this week I’ve gotten the message that creatives need time off to do their work. And here’s the thing–no matter what your industry, we all need creativity to do our best work. Watch it, do it, and for goodness sake, will someone keep me accountable? (Hat tip to Karol Gajda for this link.)
5. The hybrid homemaker: Melissa Gorzelanczyk writes about a topic near and dear to my heart: the secret to working less. It’s billed as a guide to personal and financial freedom, and I think it delivers that, along with an engaging read about finding a career that promotes work/life balance. [Editor’s note: Melissa has retired her book The Hybrid Homemaker and now writes fiction]
6. Is Entrepreneurship Right For You? Everyone seems to be a proponent of entrepreneurship these days. I think there’s been a little too much hype on the subject, and I was relieved to see I wasn’t the only one. In this interview with Carol Roth, Jonathan Fields talks about what it takes to be happy working for yourself.
7. Lucky Jim: It’s fiction, it’s a classic, and it will immediately make you feel better about yourself. When I was going through a particularly tough time in my life, this is the only book of fiction my husband would let me read (knowing my penchant for touching stories that make me cry). The only tears you’ll be shedding here will be from laughter.
8. So you want to become a happiness ninja? Tammy Strobel embraces small, but lives big. She redefines terms like profitable and successful in the most enviable way. I appreciate that she’s taken minimalism to heart, but never makes you feel bad if that isn’t for you. She’s just trying to spread the good word on conscious consumerism and how stuff impacts our well being.
9. The Happiness Project: If you’re interested in an overview of happiness literature along with an interesting personal story, this is a great book. Gretchen Rubin is quite likable, is courageous enough to share her flaws, and posits the idea that you can change your happiness without drastically changing your life.
10. Life After College: This book from Jenny Blake is brand spanking new and it’s fabulous. It’s intended for the reader right out of college, but focusing on the big picture of your life (not just the details) is valuable at any age. In fact, I like the book enough that I’ll be doing a full review in the future. Let me just say that if Jenny is representative of the 20-somethings making their way up the corporate ladder, that’s enough to make this Gen-Xer very optimistic about the future of work as we know it.
Note: several of these links are affiliate links–I have to fund my hedonistic habits somehow. That said, I only link to products I truly recommend. I hope you enjoy them.