The biggest myth about happiness is not that it is something you achieve outside of yourself. It is the idea that it is something you can experience in an instant, an electric charge that hits you like a high, and courses through you like a healing tonic.
That is not how happiness is, because your brain and body do not respond to anything instantly but fear.
What we crave is what we are conditioned to. What we believe will make us happy are ideas we have formulated that combine what has made us feel good in the past. This is where we piece together the images of what would make us happy, if only. If only we were in better shape, had nicer clothes, made more money…
Of course, we then have all of those things, and our eyes have to set themselves on the next goalpost.
That’s because those things don’t actually make us feel good. Those things are illusions, tricks that are minds use because we are addicted to the idea that happiness is something that happens immediately.
Happiness is actually something you develop over time, usually with repeated actions that are often hard and uncomfortable at first.
We are not really at fault for thinking this way.
We’re told, again and again, that high school or college or youth is the “best time of our lives,” and everything else is a downhill slope. That the “honeymoon” phase of a relationship is at the very beginning, that lust is the peak. That the job we are meant to do will inspire us day-in and day-out, that we will “never work a day in our lives” if we love it. That a new life is on the other side of better clothes and nicer skin and something else we can buy and be instantly transformed.
Sure, maybe that’s true for some people. But you don’t want high school to be the best years of your life. You don’t want the beginning of a relationship to be the best of it. You don’t want to do something that makes you feel good instantly and always, because those are often the same exact things that ruin you over time.
There’s a reason that teenagers are, statistically, the most depressed age group, and that seniors, despite assumptions, often are not. There’s a reason why they say you should give a job at least a year or two before you decide whether or not you want to stay. There’s a reason why the first year of marriage is the hardest. There’s a reason why they all say “the best is yet to be.”
And the reason is because almost nothing feels “right” at the beginning.
Don’t believe the movies. (The teenagers in them are usually played by 20 and 30-somethings, anyway.) Being young — especially in those first two decades — is the hardest time of your life. Nothing is certain. You don’t know the biggest pieces of the puzzle of your existence. You aren’t sure what you’re going to spend your days doing, where you’ll live, whether or not you’ll make it, who you’ll spend your time with.
You don’t know how to function yet in a relationship. You don’t know how to compromise, have compassion, and forgive. You haven’t yet worked long enough to understand the true peace that comes with doing something you are beginning to master, something you have worked on doing for days and weeks and years. You do not yet know how to create a good day, so you look to your horoscopes and your friends and “signs” and other people.
You do not yet have full autonomy, you do not yet have a fully developed belief system, because it probably hasn’t been challenged. You do not yet have perspective, because you haven’t seen a lot of the world, or of life. You do not yet have freedom, because you are still partially if not wholly dependent on others for stabilizing at least one point of your life.
What everyone forgets to mention is that, by and large, life gets better as you get older. Not because things get easier, but because you become stronger. You become wiser. You find the right people. You log the work. You start to rebuild your comfort zones around the behaviors that strengthen your wellness, not deteriorate it.
You learn how to pay the bills and leave a relationship and stay in one, even when it’s hard. You learn the value of friends and aliveness. You figure out how to cook and you start to appreciate things more, because you see how difficult they are to have.
Nothing is supposed to feel “right” immediately. Soulmates are not people we meet, they are relationships we build. Dream jobs are not something we get, they are something we earn. Happiness is not something we find, it’s something we develop with the small choices we make every hour of every day, for years on end.
The best of your life is ahead of you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.