I’m Liz. I’m a coach. I change people’s lives. Like a magician. Poooof! After I work with people, they never feel unhappy or have negative thoughts again.
Actually, that’s even close to what I do or even remotely what happens.
Not at all.
Wanting to be happy is the biggest reason people approach me to work with them. And the first thing I tell these people is that I cannot guarantee their happiness.
I can’t guarantee that they’ll never feel unhappy or find anything in their life challenging again. Because, well, life is hard at times and challenging stuff does happen. Sometimes just getting out of bed and finding your shoes and being an adult is challenging enough. Never mind the big life stuff. You know, the things you probably think about like, “Why do I feel so flat all the time when I have such a lovely house and a great husband?” and “I want my life to have more meaning so that I will feel happy.”
This is where our thinking is flawed.
Happiness does not equal a meaningful life.
And I know this because my life has lots of meaning but I don’t always feel happy.
In the swimming pool this morning, I dragged myself through a physically tiring endurance session. I did not enjoy this exercise one bit. I did not feel happy during it and only got through it because I bribed myself with the promise of a delicious latte from my favorite organic café on the way home from the pool.
In the shower after the swim session, and even as I was drinking the coffee I promised myself on my drive home, I felt a deep sense of contentment and certainty that I just did something that was good for me.
I felt that what I had just done was meaningful.
Was I happy? Kind of. But I wasn’t bouncing around flowing with positivity, that’s for sure. I still gave the guy tail-gating me on the way home the finger in my rear-view mirror. I still felt pissed when I walked through the front door and opened my credit card bill. I wasn’t 100% happy.
I was having a conversation with a friend a year or so ago, and she confessed that the only reason she runs marathons is to experience the mental and physical satiation of giving everything she’s got over those 26.2 miles. She told me that the enjoyment she feels afterwards, back home sitting in her pajamas with her feet up, is well worth the grit and pain of running a marathon.
At the time, I thought this was a little twisted and wrong. Shouldn’t she be enjoying herself while she was running the marathon? What was the point otherwise?
Her point was that sitting in her pajamas with her feet up back home, having achieved something that challenged her in more ways than one, gave her a similar feeling to how I felt this morning after my swim session.
This doesn’t just go for physical feats either. I know people who get the same feeling from writing page upon page of poetry or growing a bonsai tree or watching their child walk for the first time.
Are they happy when doing these things? Maybe. Maybe not. But what they’re certain of is that what they’re doing with their life feels important to them.
Something interesting I have noticed about these people is that they rarely question whether they are happy. Not even the poet who tears his hair out because he just can’t get that last stanza right, or the mum who silently cries in the dark as she holds her screaming baby at 4 AM, for the third night in a row.
They don’t question their happiness because they spend their time doing things that feel important to them. And doing those important things creates meaning in their life.
Meaning that goes beyond, or in fact, nowhere near happiness.
But closer to feeling good.