There is some pretty good research that shows that even after extremely “happy” or fortunate events like getting a new job, buying a car or even winning the lottery, we don’t stay happy very long. We revert back to baseline within a few weeks. I like this dutch study that showed that the best way to be happy on vacation is to never go. It’s not always intuitive what makes us happy and often we are not very good at making our selves happy in the long term.
I’ve struggled feeling happy all my life. I was fearful and shy as an adolescent and measured my happiness against that of others. I often felt left out of the enjoyment others felt from life. I rarely felt confident enough to pursue my own happiness.
I know that feeling this way is a pretty normal part of growing up and I don’t really think my experience was completely out of the norm. Perhaps a little further down from the middle of the bell curve for others in my social group, but on a large scale my childhood was what many of us experience.
I served a two year mission in France for the Mormon church that really helped me grow confident in myself and my independence. My mission was very hard for me, but because it was I grew tremendously from it. I learned social rules and gained experiences interacting with people. I started to learn how much of my happiness came from my experiences and interactions with those around me. I learned to find others who I felt happy around.
Coming home from my mission I was looking for someone to make me happy forever; my “eternal companion”. I had such a strong desire for a wife and family that I felt would be the final big step in finding a lasting happiness. And like anything, it was for a while. My life with my wife and kids was everything I hoped it would be and expected, yet… I wasn’t happy. Certainly I had the same ups and downs everyone has in marriage and life yet I could feel myself sinking. Sinking into a depression that was harder and harder to pull myself out of. I blamed my wife, I blamed my career, I blamed my church, I blamed my genetics, and more than anything I blamed myself.
This is an overly public forum to discuss my separation and divorce. But I can say that my life changed drastically after. I was on my own in a way I had never before experienced. Separated from my kids and my family, as well as my church community, I felt more alone than I had ever had. And not just alone physically, but independent of influence or control. It was up to me to figure out my own happiness. I had no rules and no constraints for the way I was able to live and find out what things make me happy.
And it was then that I started to realize what I was doing wrong. I started to see that I was looking for others to make me happy. I was looking for happiness to come from something external. And that’s just not how people work. Happiness comes from inside us. It is a reaction to things we are experiencing, and I finally started to gain control over what I was experiencing. I started to find those experiences and people that brought me happiness. Not because I was expecting them to make me happy. But because I started to figure out how to make myself happy.
I used to think about happiness as something that happens to us. We get happy, or something makes us happy. Or even that it is some future reward that we will get if we do something for it. But happiness is now. We can never experience future happiness. We only get to feel happy now. And it’s something we need to choose. Choosing happiness is as easy as know what makes us happy and doing our best to act that way. Knowing what makes us happy is the hard part.
Things that make me happy:
- My kids
- Feeling loved
- Spending time with my friends
- Showing love
- Enjoying a good movie or book
- Being truthful to myself
- Accomplishing something difficult
- Good conversation
- Learning something new
- Standing up for what I believe in
- Seeing the world progress
- Technology and Science
- Feeling free to chart my own course