We, as a society, have a lot to be happy about. We have unlimited connection with people from around the globe like never before. We have affordable options when it comes to traveling the world. We even have apps that deliver cupcakes to our front door! Yet, we’re still incredibly unhappy. At the end of the day, all we need to know on how to be happy is to stop being so obsessed with it.
I noticed this when I was having an incredibly bad day.
It was 12 pm the other day and I was heading to my side gig (in an attempt to make some extra cash while I’m at home). I had been up since 6 am working on some blog stuff and faced many technical errors resulting in a final piece I wasn’t very happy with. What can I say, I’m a perfectionist!
This negativity I felt about my own shortcomings seemed to trigger a series of events. A series of negative events.
My final piece sucked, which meant I sucked. I thought, “If I were just a little bit better, I wouldn’t even have this stupid side job. I’m so bad at blogging/writing/influencing/blah. If I was more creative, more likable, more pretty, I would be living a life of happiness.”
This negativity sent me into a shame spiral. These thoughts made me late to my next job, think horrible thoughts about myself, not have time to get something to eat and almost crash into a car. And while this was all happening, I realized how much I had to be grateful for yet still didn’t care, which made me feel like an even bigger piece of shit.
I called my husband and vented to him. His concern for my feelings made him start to feel bad about everything so much, that now he was upset. My negativity was like a virus, spreading from one person to the next.
At the end of the day, I realized what I had done wrong. I was desperately trying to be a happy person. My brain was longing so badly for happiness, but was ultimately frustrated with the results. My mind knows what makes me happy, and when it realized that it wasn’t feeling it, my brain kept me from finding any sense of joy in that moment.
My subconscious couldn’t stop churning depraved and sad thoughts:
“Travel makes me happy. I’m not traveling right now. Therefore, I’m not happy.”
“Everyone else is successful (according to the internet). I’m not successful. Therefore, I’m not happy.”
“I’m working so hard and not making enough money. Money makes people happy. Therefore, I’m not happy.”
Aside from comparing myself to other’s versions of happiness, you can see what I did wrong there, right?
My mind was obsessed with how to be happy. And when all you can do is think about happiness, you will fall short. This is because most of the time in life, you will not be happy.
This is especially true for millennials. I think this is a result of seeing our parents working hard, getting divorced, and generally being unhappy. We are so obsessed with this ideal state of mind that we think we will finally have the answer.
I can already see what the average millennial is thinking. “Instead of my parents, I’m going to look for a flexible job that will not only sustain me, but make me happy. I’ll go against traditional, societal norms and wait to get married and have kids so I can have the career of my dreams and be happy. Instead of being a mindless consumer, I’m spending all of my money on experiences to be happy.”
And of course we want to be happy! We don’t want shitty relationships with shitty jobs reminding us of our own mortality on this little bead of a planet. God, how awful is that!
But sadly millennials, we have not found the answer. In fact, we might be more unhappy than our parents. Looking for happiness—nay OBSESSING about happiness—only reminds us that we’re not happy now. Being on that hamster wheel and chasing that ultimate feeling, makes it less about the journey and more about the destination.
And when you finally get to the destination, do you notice it doesn’t feel as good as you would have hoped?
So how do we stop looking for happiness and just BE happy?
I think there are a couple of answers to this one:
1. Live in the Moment
Right now, I can think of some of the happiest moments in my life: meeting Kevin and spending our “summer of love” together. Laughing with my family in my Mom’s bed on Sunday mornings. Taking random trips with my best friends while studying abroad. Talking about boys and getting into trouble on the weekends back in high school.
Want to know why those moments were the happiest in my life? Because they were spontaneous!
I look back on these moments in my life and realize they made me happy because there wasn’t any pressure to be happy. I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t planning it. I simply WAS.
Planning your happiness only puts unnecessary pressure on yourself to make it happen. If you fail, then you feel awful and think you will never be happy. If you succeed, it just doesn’t feel quite as great as you’d hoped.
Being present is what makes happiness that much more pure, wonderful and enjoyable.
2. Practice Gratitude
I probably sound like Oprah when I say this, but it’s true. Gratitude not only brings you back to the present (see point number one), but actually reconfigures your brain’s neurological triggers!
According to this article, “The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable…”
Being grateful can be hard, I get it. Sometimes, you just don’t feel grateful for that expensive litter box you call a studio apartment or your student loans for a degree you don’t even use. But sometimes, just the simple act of searching for gratitude gives you the same effect.
“And at the end of the day, it’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.”
3. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Easier said than done, I know. And I’m incredibly guilty of it. Having a job that revolves around social media means I surround myself with other people’s version of “happiness” on a daily basis. It’s hard not to get sucked into the black hole of fake happy.
But remember that everyone has their own fears, sadness and bad days, too.
Some of you might be surprised to learn that I have to work side jobs, have bad days and still feel inferior. Imagine some of those super famous influencers, bloggers and celebrities. Imagine how often they compare themselves to others and the kind of pressure they put themselves under to “stay on top.”
Again, life is a journey that everyone is taking together. Some stop and get success along the way. Some have to walk the long, hard road alone. But ultimately, we’re all walking it together.