Remember when you wanted something so badly, you’d do just about anything to get it? The kind of “do just about anything to get it” that would make Howard Stern turn red? Chances are you did some pretty crazy stuff because you felt you didn’t just want something to be happy, you needed it to be happy. We’ll just go ahead and assume the worst in your quest for trying your hand at happiness.
Kicking, scratching, and clawing your way to some end goal was the only way to go in your mind. One definite area that most people think of is relationships. If someone (lord have mercy on them) cut you off, it was time to give up your car title and first-born child to either give them living hell or get them back. Totally cool, for awhile. Then, whether you got them back or not, you probably realized it wasn’t exactly worthy of your time or effort.
You chased something for happiness, and in the long run didn’t get what you wanted out of it. In other words, you tried to be happy and fell flat on your ass when you realized that, well, you aren’t exactly a much happier individual for obtaining your “goal”.
I’m here to tell you it’s a lose-lose situation. On one hand, if you don’t get what you wanted, you end up dumbfounded wondering exactly how or where you fucked it up. On the other hand, what happens if you actually do get it? Nine times out of ten, you probably think to yourself, “Is that it? That’s what this is about?” You see, it’s futile. Fleeting at best.
Trying to be happy in other areas of your life is really no different than any of the above. We treat happiness like it’s some kind of destination goal, that once we hit its elusive aura, we’ll actually, well, be happy. The problem is, we never get there. And when we look at how many things we seem to be chasing, it all begins to make sense.
What Is Your Definition of Happiness?
Think of what your version of happiness means to the typical person.
Hint: there’s not an easy answer.
If your immediate reaction was something like “well Adam, you fucking idiot, happiness means different things to different people”, you’re absolutely right. So let me rephrase that a bit: what does happiness mean to you? Does it mean making a million dollars a year? Having a beautiful and committed partner? Enjoying what you do? Owning a house? All of the above plus much, much more? All valid.
Here’s the tricky part. I didn’t ask you for what you needed to obtain happiness; I simply asked what happiness means to you. And I guarantee you answered it based on external factors (money, possessions, and the like – think Gordon Gecko or The Wolf of Wall Street), not internal (enjoying the moment, practicing gratitude, self-reflection, and more – think yoga or Buddhism).
Is it wrong to tie happiness to some kind of goal? Not really, because honestly we crave the ability to work towards something, and it’s what keeps us moving forward. It’s called motivation. Unfortunately, we get so wrapped up in motivation, it becomes a classic “if-this-then-that” argument.
If I obtain a million dollars, then I’ll be happy.
If I buy a house, then I’ll feel better.
If I made $150,000 a year, I’ll enjoy myself more.
What about answering the really simple question, “are you happy?”
If you’re like the average American, you’d probably hesitate before answering and you wouldn’t sound so convincing if you said yes. Don’t worry, most of us fall into the “eh, I’m doing alright” category, so you’re far from alone.
Turns out some legit academic scientists decided to classify those different feelings of happiness for us peasants. The Harris Poll defines that “eh” category as somewhere around 31 index points out of 100 in their Happiness Index. In other words, roughly 1 out of 3 American’s consider themselves really happy. Are you one of them? If you are, congratulations and you can stop reading now. But just this article, please keep reading my other articles. If you aren’t, and you’ve made it this far already, it’s time to rethink how you approach happiness.
Happiness Is Not a Destination
Tying your happiness to some kind of goal doesn’t work. I can guarantee this one-thousand-fucking-percent. (1,000fucking%) Why?
Because happiness is a by-product of doing shit you actually enjoy.
You won’t suddenly flip a happy switch between off and on like a light bulb. It builds up, and then one day you’ll say “Dang Adam you’re right, I think I’m pretty happy in life right now. I can’t even pinpoint exactly why off hand, but I just am.”
Just like that, by the way.
Happiness, again, is not a destination where you’ll suddenly obtain the elusive contentment if you reach some hard X, Y, or Z. If you’re depressed and you buy that slick BMW 5 series you apparently tied to your happiness, you might get a temporary boost but chances are you’ll still hate your life. If you struggle with addiction, chances are you’ll still struggle with addiction. If you do a lot of negative self-talk, chances are you’ll still talk negatively about yourself because you’ll find any reason to wipe clean any accomplishment you actually get.
Here’s another relevant example you can all relate to – your income. We all want more money, right? If you say no, you’re lying or in denial. And we always think that if we reach some dollar amount, we’ll be much happier. What inevitably happens from the case studies they publish every 3rd Friday of the month regarding this topic? You don’t get happier. You just take that $X amount and notch it up further, so now you’ll be happy once you reach the new amount, except it’s just higher. Talk about a vicious cycle.
Here’s the deal, though. It’s really fucking hard to not tie your happiness to some external end goal. And it’s even harder to not tie it to tangible things, like money or a material possession. But if you want to keep your sanity, you’re better off fighting the urge.
I fully admit I struggle with detaching my happiness from attaining something pretty regularly. Like just yesterday, I wanted to eat half a pint of Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Swirl gelato, which had 10 other beautifully sweet ingredients mixed in. I thought if I had this, I’d be happier. So I naturally followed the steps of trying to reach any end goal. I went out and bought the ice cream. I came home, opened it up, and ate it in all its glory. I was right – I was much happier after eating it.
But only for a very short moment. And that’s the difference.
Barring the fact I felt like shit afterwards, I thought about why I was happier and realized one thing: it wasn’t getting the ice cream that made me happy, it was actually the process of eating it. You know, the creaminess of the gelato, the sweetness of the sugar and huge chunks of fudge, the saltiness of the peanut butter. Once I was done with it, was I much happier? If you ask me within the small window of 10 minutes of finishing, sure. After that, I’d argue no. I was actually happier eating it. But because I so thoroughly enjoyed actually eating it, it carried over a bit into afterwards.
Life is really no different from this. If you’re wondering why I just broke life down into an example of eating gelato, you can keep wondering. Life can be just that simple.
We can move on from gelato and give a couple more real-life examples. For instance, you got a raise worth double, so congrats you successful son of a bitch. You still hate your job, though. Or you finally put down the money to buy a house. Congrats, you responsible son of a bitch. You still hate your wife though.
Having End Goals Is OK
I can hear it already: “But Adam, without goals, you can’t move forward and be successful in life.”
But I ask you this: if you obtain something you wanted so badly and it’s the “end goal”, that means your goal is done, right? There is nowhere to take it to another level. If you get someone back, you can’t then get them back again, they’re already yours. If you buy a Ferrari, you can’t rebuy it. If you buy a house, you can’t sell it and then repurchase it.
The proper kinds of end goals, the ones we need to be focusing on, are goals that enable you to do two things. One, you need to be able to potentially modify them to reach another level. And two, your goals need to simultaneously give you a sense of accomplishment without putting your entire mental state of happiness on the line like a round of roulette.
Happiness Is a Choice
Technically, you can snap your fingers and enter a state of happiness. You can choose to be happy at just about any given point, and you have full control over this. We all have the same tools at our disposal, and it starts in your head.
So stop trying to be happy. Stop pinning your happiness on reaching some end point, and start living your life doing shit you actually enjoy. You’ll find that happiness isn’t as elusive as you think, it comes naturally as you get involved in things you appreciate, love, and relish. The more you get involved in those things, the more you’ll find your happiness go up a notch.
Stop chasing happiness, let happiness chase you. The only way to do that is do the things you love. Happiness is no different from a guy or girl you want to date. If you do what you love, have a great time doing it, and in turn improve your self-confidence and outlook on life, you’ll find a much better fit for you, be it a person or something called happiness.