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.
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