Why do we fear being happy? It’s a loaded question — one I find myself ruminating on frequently as I allow stress and worry to cloud my thoughts. Why, I wonder, is it so hard to let go of the things that bring us down, and just rest with happiness?
To answer that question, we’ll need to dive in the psychology of what creates happiness — and what doesn’t. Are you looking for how to be happy with yourself? Read on to learn what may be holding you back from true happiness — and what you can do about it.
We begin to repress happy thoughts and feelings in childhood. As we grow up, we’re taught that we need to be patient and wait for the next big thing to happen — this next thing, we’re lead to believe, will bring true happiness.
As a teenager, I remember thinking about how great my life would be once I got a car and a driver’s license. After that, I couldn’t wait until I could move out of my parents’ house. Next, I wanted to graduate from college and start my first job. After all of that, when I realized I still wasn’t happy, I decided it must be because I hadn’t met my soulmate, yet.
In my mind, happiness wasn’t given, it was earned. I needed to gather enough badges to prove I deserved to be happy. With each “achievement” there was also a “but”… But wait until you have this next thing, then you’ll be happy!
We train our minds to constantly anticipate what’s next. We’re conditioned to the belief that happiness is only earned after long periods of unhappiness.
Instead of appreciating the present, we’re hopeful for a future that is unknown or we’re longing for a past that brings us comfort. We take for granted the beautiful gift of “now.”
These negative thoughts stem from the fear of truly being happy. We tell ourselves that if we are too happy right now, all the good things will go away. It’s safer to keep our guards up and never be too content with life as-is.
I live in the United States. The U.S.A., like many other countries around the world, is an achievement-oriented society. This culture tells us that we’re not successful unless we’ve achieved a certain quality of life relative to our neighbors, friends and social media connections.
People from achievement-oriented cultures often find that they never get where they want to be because once they reach a milestone, they’re immediately striving for the next accomplishment.
The ability to follow along on everyone else’s life journeys through social media makes it even easier for us to compare our lives to others and wish for more.
Not all countries are centered around a winner vs. loser mindset. In Nordic countries, the norm is not to be the most successful person. Rather, the goal of each person is to make the most of what you have.
Some people may think this is a negative mindset, but these countries are home to some of the happiest people in the world, so they could be onto something.
It’s possible that you won’t become the next Bill Gates or Taylor Swift — and this doesn’t mean you are a failure. Most people won’t make it to the top 1 percent; in fact, most of us won’t even break the top 49 percent. But we can still be happy, regardless.
Happiness comes from within, but it’s also influenced by the mindset of our societies. We can do more to help the most impressionable in society, children, learn to practice mindsets that appreciate each moment rather than normalize the mentality that happiness is only achieved when they reach future goals.
We also need to stop equating positive feelings to the number of ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ that pop up on our screens. Many people report feeling happier when they take time away from social media.
If you depend on external rewards for happiness, you’ll often end up disappointed. You’ll never have enough social media followers, video views or podcast listeners.
There is a chance that I won’t end up being as successful as I hope to be one day. And that’s OK. It’s OK to be happy with normalcy.
If you’re someone who constantly strives for the next big thing, spend time reflecting in appreciation for the things that you already have. Do this every day.
I’m saying all of this as someone who doesn’t necessarily like the words I’m typing. I always want something bigger and better for myself. I’ve frequently found myself thinking that no matter how much I gain, it’s never enough. There’s always a bigger dream to chase.
The higher my expectations, the more stressed and unhappy I feel. I begin doubting myself when I can’t perfectly hit each and every target. I compare myself to other people and beat myself up. And I worry that if I stop striving for a moment, I’ll lose any chance of future happiness.
What could I do instead to be happier? I could think about how hard I’ve worked to reach my goal and all of the significant progress I’ve made so far.
I can spend time in meditation, reflecting on all the good things that life has already given to me. And I can share my wins with loved ones when they happen, as well as practice genuine celebration for others’ accomplishments.
There is a rule in business called the Law of Diminishing Returns. This idea is that as you get more customers, your potential customer base begins to decrease in size and it becomes harder to convert the remaining prospects.
Think about it as a fishing pond. There are 90 fish in the pond and you’ve caught 89. It’s going to be much harder to catch fish #90 than it was to catch fish #1.
It’s easy to get the first few customers because you’re fishing from a full pond. You may grow for a long time, but at some point, the number of new customers will fall.
What does the Law of Diminishing Returns have to do with happiness? Think about how its rule applies to life. The more you achieve, the harder it becomes to get that next big thing.
For many of us, our earliest accomplishments are nearly handed to us. As we get older, we find that we have fewer resources, support, and energy — and our goals are much bigger and harder to achieve.
This rule applies to almost anything in life. It’s easier to lose the first 5 pounds when you start a new weight loss plan than it is to lose the final 2.
Instead of beating yourself up for struggling to fulfill your dreams, give yourself patience. Celebrate the wins that you’ve already achieved.
Not getting to the next level exactly when you want to get there doesn’t make you a failure. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to be happy.
Sit back, close your eyes, and ask yourself, “What am I grateful about today?”
Spending just a few minutes a day practicing gratitude can help increase your happiness. As can positive affirmations. Become your own cheerleader. Celebrate each small win. If that win is that you took a shower today, kindly tell yourself that you are proud of yourself to that achievement.
Tell yourself that you have permission to NOT meet your next goal. Sit with that statement until it starts to feel like that outcome might actually be OK. This probably requires sitting with fear and discomfort. Can you do it?
We can’t live our entire lives placing personal value on what we are able to achieve externally. Letting go of that pressure doesn’t mean letting go of your dream. It means that you’re no longer placing your worth on whether or not you accomplish the dream.
There is a cliche in dating that says, “once you stop looking for the perfect partner, you’ll find them.” When we stop seeking so hard for happiness in places it was never meant to be found, happiness ends up finding its way to us.
Quiet, dreamy and free-spirited, you are someone who often has their head in the clouds and their nose in a book. Regardless of your age, you carry a childlike enthusiasm for the world and possess deep empathy for all living things. Like Persephone, the Goddess of the Underworld, your energy is both light and airy as well as dark and rooted. You feel a deep sense of connection to both the good and evil of the world.
Your friends and family may describe you as creative, introverted and romantic. You appreciate the beauty in simplicity, and are attracted to the arts — you may have an affinity for music, painting or poetry, for example. Your relationships are a crucial cornerstone to your identity. Guided by Persephone energy, you are drawn to people who can guide, teach and support you. The desire to be guided by others may lead you to jump head first into unhealthy relationships or to become overly attached to a single person or group. Your idealistic approach to romance may cause you to put your partner on a pedestal, putting their desires above your own — and you may find it difficult to understand yourself outside of your relationships.
With supportive Hestia energy, you may find yourself withdrawing into solace when fears and insecurities emerge. You may experience obsessive and perfectionist tendencies, i.e., “if I could just make the house look this way or make my partner feel that way, then I will be OK.” Because of your reliance on other people, your greatest potential for growth is in developing your Athena energy. Athena is curious, rational and independent. Far from looking to be led, Athena takes the reigns and makes decisions based on what is right for her. Athena energy is within you, and tapping into this energy will help you gain fulfillment, freedom and confidence in the strong woman who you are.
You may find it challenging to access the strength and fierce competitiveness of your opposing Artemis energy. However, doing so will allow you to to unlock extraordinary potential for growth.
As a woman guided by Demeter and Persephone energy, you seek to both care and be cared for by those you love. Your warm and down-to-earth personality easily attracts other people. You are vulnerable enough to be relateable, but also slow to trust and allow people inside your inner world. You are both the mother and the daughter — and have likely played, or hope to someday play, both roles to the very best of your abilities. You are a nurturer at heart. Outside of family relationships, you likely also feel pulled toward a career in taking care of others, perhaps as a nurse, counselor or life coach.
You are the woman who everyone can count on for both emotional support and practical guidance. You’ve likely planned and hosted all the birthday parties, offered to make the funeral arrangements and otherwise taken on the roles that many others are unwilling to step into. To you, it’s all about getting things done, managing expectations and giving love to those who need it. You are an affectionate parent, a supportive partner and a loyal friend. These roles hardly leave the time to focus on another important person: yourself.
If you don’t learn to set boundaries, you may find that your mental and physical state begins to suffer. The patience that used to come so easily begins to wear thin. Rather than protecting the people in your life, you can become overly controlling and obsessive about their well-being at the expense of your own. This is why it’s crucial to harness your Aphrodite energy. The Alchemical Goddess is both relational and focused on knowing and living her own unique purpose. Developing this energy within yourself is your greatest potential for growth.
While opposing Athena energy will try to hold you back from claiming too much success or independence apart from your relationships, you have the power to access Athena in a healthy way as well. Defining what you need to be successful in work, love and life will allow you — as well as those you love — to thrive.
Energetic, adaptable and alert, you are someone who is highly in tune with all that is going on in the world around you. You easily recognize the practical needs of your friends, family members and co-workers. Like Hera, goddess of marriage, you are relationally oriented, loyal and good at making commitments. You get the most joy and fulfillment from life when you’re spending it exploring the world with the people you love.
Your friends and family may describe you as extroverted, curious and a busy body. Always on the go and looking for new adventures, you may also be a bit of a thrill-seeker. Other people in your life may struggle to keep up with your energy. As a woman guided by Hera energy, it’s crucial to spend time on inner work that brings motivation and satisfaction. Without this, you will end up overly reliant on other people for happiness and struggle to understand yourself outside of your relationships.
Your supportive Artemis energy shows up in your fierce competitiveness and a drive to champion for the people you care about. You are a fighter — “giving up” is not a phrase in your vocabulary. You may spend long periods of time focused on learning a new skill or championing a cause, but you must be careful that these focused efforts aren’t being used to distract from your emotions.
As someone who is primarily focused on the outer world, your greatest potential for growth is channeling your inner Hestia energy. Hestia, goddess of the hearth, is the most introverted of all the feminine archetypes. Hestia symbolizes solitude, self-awareness and peace. This archetype doesn’t need other people for fulfillment. Activities that require an inward focus, such as meditation and yoga, will help you develop more Hestia energy.
With opposing Persephone energy, you may struggle with allowing other people to take care of you. However, opening yourself up to more Persephone energy in your life will unlock great potential for growth.