We should love the lives we live.
But does that mean we’re going to be happy all the time? Not necessarily. And I think I’ve stumbled onto a bit of a truth bomb: happiness isn’t the actual goal.
If that thought messes with your mind, don’t worry. It’s a normal response.
We’re conditioned, all our lives, to believe we should never have to feel bad, and that when we’re unhappy, something must be deeply wrong with our lives—or worse, inherently wrong with us. We think if we don’t feel happy all the time, that we’re bad or wrong or unworthy.
But there’s an alternative. We have the option to take that pressure off of ourselves. To just let that layer of self-judgement drop, and consider that an authentically lived life is made up of the whole spectrum of human emotion.
Living this human experience involves both positive and negative emotions. We have permission to feel every feeling that we have, and it doesn’t have to be a problem at all—because it isn’t. We get to feel these things.
The key to living a life we love might be surprising.
Of course, our happiness as humans is important. Purpose, fulfillment, and joy are all essential parts of living a life you love. But to live only from our comfort zones, pursuing only things that make us feel content—is that really living?
We were made for more than that, and in order to expand past the current capacity of which we’re living, we have to get uncomfortable. Maybe even a little frustrated, with a side of wanting to give up. It’s the key reason most people never go after what they want; they don’t want to feel those things.
Why a new way of thinking about happiness can shift our reality.
Let’s imagine I want to communicate better with my husband. Every Saturday, he golfs with his friends, and by the time he’s home, I’m feeling resentful and frustrated. My normal M.O. is to pretend nothing is wrong, and when he asks, say, “Everything is fine.”
Two things are at play here. One is my desire to just have things be happy and fine, and the other is my desire to stay comfortable with my normal behavior patterns. What if…I was willing to feel uncomfortable and be honest with him? Let him know exactly what I feel about the situation.
Maybe the truth is that I really don’t mind him golfing, and if I were able to spend time with my own friends, it wouldn’t be a problem at all. Or maybe I really want more family time, and golfing consumes the whole Saturday. Could I be willing to feel those emotions grow in my relationship and communication with him? I could. So many of us could.
At first glance, it seems like a big mental leap to go from thinking, “I need to be happy in order to move forward” to, “I can move forward regardless of how my thoughts make me feel.” But in reality, it’s a small shift with a major impact.
Why? Because when we feel comfortable moving forward knowing that the journey will entail feelings other than happiness, when we expect it, we won’t use it as an excuse to stop. Instead, we’ll use it as a checkpoint that we’re right on track.
Using happiness as the guide, rather than the destination.
Ultimately, the goal isn’t to be happy. In fact, studies have shown that when people set happiness as a goal to achieve, they feel less happiness and more anxiety about getting it.
What if, instead, we could think of happiness as a side effect of a well-lived life?
Give happiness the leeway to come into our lives without forcing obligations or prerequisites onto it. It would be a game-changer. It would remind us that the real goal is to go after the exact things we want in our lives, regardless of how they make us feel along the way.
We have the ability to bring more connection, more purpose, and more joy to every aspect of our lives. Marriage, motherhood, friendship, our careers, finances, anything. We can create the freedom and fulfillment that we’ve always wanted but could never seem to grasp.
It all starts with our willingness to not have to be happy.