You get eight hours of sleep. You exercise. You have ambitions, a social life, a Netflix account. You sort of eat right, sometimes. You have close friends. You work a decent gig. You put inspirational quotes on your Facebook/Tumblr/Instagram/Twitter. Somehow, you still aren’t happy. What’s the deal, man? Here are a few common roadblocks that might be keeping you from the steady happiness you so desire in your daily life.
1. You keep basing your happiness on others.
There’s no better way to ensure your own unhappiness than by leaving your well-being in the hands of others. I know this sounds cynical, hear me out. The world is a mess and it’s a mess because people are flawed. You are, I am. Even Jesus, the Prince of Peace, flipped out and thrashed a market that one time. We’re unstable creatures and that may be the only predictable thing about us. Okay, maybe one of two predictable things: we’re also notoriously bad at understanding one another. Arguably, all human misery derives from misunderstanding. With these two truths in mind, why in the world would you allow others to determine whether or not you’re happy? Trust is beautiful and so are the people around us, but nobody knows you like you do. It follows that there’s no one more suited to handle your happiness than you are. Knowing you can trace your unhappiness back to yourself can feel like a lot to take on. But knowing you can always depend on yourself for happiness is unbelievably liberating. So, take accountability for your happiness and never let it go.
2. You can’t differentiate between self-awareness and self-loathing.
There are few things our society relishes more than slamming arrogant fools. Consequently, there are few things we’re more afraid of than being perceived as arrogant fools. This fear makes it easy to let self-awareness evolve into self-loathing. Being cognizant of our flaws and weaknesses is critical to living life well and improving with each day. It lets us compensate for our shortcomings while we turn them into strengths and just makes us all more pleasant people to be around. But self-loathing takes this extremely useful awareness and turns it into a paralyzing force. Instead of helping us move beyond our faults, it causes us to be consumed by them. Spelled out this way, it’s clear just how detrimental self-loathing is. But therein lies its seduction: it works on us under the guise of honest self-criticism, making it very difficult to detect. So when I start to feel the weight of my flaws press down on me, I like to ask myself a couple of questions. First, am I working to change? If so, I remind myself to take it easy. Progress can be slow sometimes. Intention and effort to change are all we can reasonably expect from ourselves. If this doesn’t make me feel any better, it’s on to the second question: is my negativity aimed at the flaw or at myself? Flaws are like bad clothes. They don’t make us look very good, but they also don’t really reflect the person beneath them. If your flaws are making you feel like crap, remember your proverbial birthday suit is under there, ready to don the perfect ensemble.
3. You believe happiness and euphoria are synonymous.
We can thank movies and television for this one. I can’t tell you when exactly it happened, but at some point we all got this strange idea that happiness is this endless, natural high you get when everything in your life falls into place. It’s not. Happiness is peace, acceptance, and satisfaction with the balance and pace of your life. Euphoria is rapture, joy, a transcendental ecstasy felt in response to getting what you want. Happiness is sustainable: you can feel it for as long as you choose. Euphoria is fleeting: once the rush wears off, you’re pretty much right back where you were. Euphoria isn’t bad at all. It motivates us to chase meaningful things. But if you pursue consistent happiness and expect to feel constant euphoria, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Not only will you be missing the exhilarating high you expect, you’ll also be missing out on the happiness you could be feeling all the time. Get your definitions straight and you’ll find it much easier to maximize your opportunities for euphoria and attain a lasting state of happiness too.
4. Your standards for happiness are conditional.
This derives somewhat from the previous point. A lot of us have decided that we won’t (read: can’t) really be happy until we accomplish some arbitrary goal. Maybe it’s getting a degree, or finding a spouse, or buying a car, or losing some weight. These are all great goals and achieving them can undoubtedly contribute to and magnify your happiness. But there’s simply no good reason to deny yourself happiness right now. And that’s what it really is: denying yourself happiness. I think for some folks this is a motivating measure: “meet this goal and you can feel happy”. For others, I think it indicates a gap in their self-esteem. They don’t feel capable or worthy of happiness, but they believe they can become capable and worth through achievement. In both cases, the result is the same; days, months, or years of happiness are willingly thrown away for no good reason. If life is a game and achievements are the measure our score, then happiness is the point-multiplier we personally control. Sure, college earns you 300 points. But if you’re rocking a level-three happiness-multiplier when you graduate, it’s three times as good. Don’t let your aspirations for tomorrow stop you from feeling happy with who and where you are today.
There are a kabillion things going on in the world right now, approximately. Any one of them could be reasonably blamed for your unhappiness. My hope is you’ve now got at least four fewer things holding you back. Think I missed something? Think happiness is overrated? Think I’m an arrogant fool? Let me know in the comments, I’d be happy to hear from you.