It seems like everywhere I go I just can't get away from people discussing if you can ever really achieve true happiness. Topics like: What makes you happy? How do you define happiness? Can one be truly happy or do you always have to make at least some concessions in your life?
It was the focus of today's sermon at church, my mom brought up the topic on her latest visit, and I feel like lately I have seen discussions of happiness mentioned on TV in everything from talk shows to sitcoms. Maybe it is just timely for me since it is a subject that I have been reflecting on a lot lately and so I just have been noticing it more. (Just like you see everyone else driving the car you just bought.) Or maybe it is a result of the tough economy and people grasping at happiness in non-traditional ways.
In any case, it is something that I wanted to blog about since it has become a small obsession for me as of late: What exactly will make me happy?
Amazingly I think I discovered the answer.
Recently I was in my car listening to a Manic Mommies podcast which featured Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project. I was struck by her assertion that we shouldn't strive to achieve "happiness" or to be "happy" but rather strive to be "happier" since one's definition of happiness is often so abstract and fantasy-like that it becomes unobtainable.
AHHH.. Finally some advice I can sink my teeth into!
I completely understood what she was talking about. Let's call it the "happily ever after" hypothesis. When you hear talk of achieving happiness you (at least I) often think of unicorns and rainbows and utopia. Cinderella and Prince Charming. Life is good, there is no pain, everything is going according to plan. But of course that isn't realistic. (Since we all know eventually Cinderella had a fight with good ol' P.C. about leaving his dirty socks on the floor just inches from the laundry basket!)
In order to enjoy happiness or to feel happy, you have to experience the fear, hurt, frustration, anger as well. You need to have a frame of reference. Happiness, even ultimate happiness is relative. It isn't an endpoint, but rather an ever-shifting perspective on the things going on around you.
That realization has greatly changed my attitude and perspective on this upcoming move and the big changes that lie ahead for me. I was putting too much pressure on myself and my decisions, trying to make them the "right" ones. As if the answers were clearly black and white.
Town A or Town B?
Stay at home or go back to work?
Industry or Academia?
Daycare of Nanny?
Short commute or nice house?
Choose the right path and find happiness, or make the wrong decision and end up in a pit of despair. Oh the pressure! I mean, this is my and my family's ultimate happiness on the line!!
But is it really?
The truth is that neither (or both) of the choices will wind up offering happiness. Maybe not the same amount, but I can always find a way to make either choice work. And if the choice I make ends up not offering up as much happiness as the alternative, it doesn't mean I'll be miserable either. There is no rule to say that I can never be happy again, or that I can't go back and make a new choice. Just like my golf game, I can allow for the occasional mulligan.
The bottom line is nobody can be 100% happy, 100% of the time. But can you be happy most of the time? Or at least happier? Sure. Do your choices help shape that perspective? Of course. But there is no 'happily ever after' and your happiness doesn't depend solely on the choice that you make, but rather the way you look at the outcome of that choice.
So moving forward I am changing the way I am asking the questions.
No more am I asking: "Which of these choices will make me happy?"
Now it is: "Which of these choices will make me happier, at least right now?" and "What can I do to make myself happier about the result of the choices I have made?"
It is time to control my own destiny! Take control of my own happiness! Since in reality my Prince Charming's socks will never make it to the laundry basket and that is okay.