It’s been a challenging couple of weeks for my husband and me. My husband was in a motorcycle accident 10 days ago resulting in a banged up left shoulder and hip, and a broken thumb. I got sick the same day. All of this occurred in the midst of my studying for two upcoming tests, and Dan going through the process of settling his mother’s estate. While we are bit worn out, our satisfaction with life – and each other – has not waned. We are rolling with the punches. Sure, it would be nice if things were a bit easier, but why let external events undermine our happiness? We know that happiness is an inside job.
I realize that we are not the norm. The emotional well-being of many people is vulnerable to the whims of life. That is unfortunate. I’ve been pondering the reasons that so many have trouble maintaining their contentment with life, and have come to believe that a significant portion is due to the narrative of American culture. We are indoctrinated with a lot of ideas that really aren’t true.
Let’s take a look at these.
The Myths Surrounding Happiness
Happiness comes from accomplishment or success. Um no. Success can enhance happiness, but it should never be the basis for happiness. Why? First, success is never assured. Second, some goals are very long-term. For example a college degree takes 4 years. Are you going to put off being happy for 4 years? And then when you set eyes on a new goal, will discontent again take hold until success is achieved? The type of happiness that comes from goal achievement is fleeting.
Happiness comes from money. If you don’t have enough money to meet your daily needs, this is absolutely true. However, beyond that, not so much. Research states that a household income above $75,000/yr. will not increase your happiness. (I was a bit disgruntled that I couldn’t find how many people live in that hypothetical household.) This amount varies depending on the cost of living where you live, with Mississippi having the lowest cost of living and Hawaii having the highest. I do know that when I was a single person, I made far less. But my needs were met, and I was happy. I urge people not to fall into the “if I can make X amount of money, I will finally be happy” trap. It’s not true, and you’ll spend a lot of time not being happy while you try to achieve your hypothetical income.
Your destiny is in your hands. This is only partially true. The amount of control each of us has over our lives is less than we are led to believe. You basically control only two things: the general direction you take in life, and how you react to external events. But life is akin to an ocean voyage in a sailboat. You may sail along on smooth seas with a good breeze in your sails, heading the direction you want to go at a good pace. Or you may find yourself adrift with no wind in your sails. Perhaps, you get hit with a huge storm that not only impedes your progress, but damages you or your sailboat. Yeah, it’s tough when life doesn’t cooperate with our plans, but that does not need to result in misery.
If you try hard enough you will succeed. Although it’s certainly true that if you don’t try, you won’t succeed, but the truth is you can do everything right and still lose. While a positive result may add to our joy, we can’t lay our entire happiness at the feet of a desired outcome. It’s important to note the accomplishment of the steps in between where you’ve started and where you end.
Conclusion – Happiness is an Inside Job
If you buy into any of these, you are relinquishing control of your happiness and subjecting it to the vagaries of external events. So what should happiness be based on? Things that are almost totally in your control. And that basically comes down to your own behavior. For me, happiness is found in how I care for my husband, family, and friends. Do I treat them tenderness and compassion? Happiness is found in how I handle difficult situations. Do I conduct myself with grace and efficiency? Can I roll with life’s unpredictability? Do I handle conflict with fairness and a cool head? These examples may seem nebulous. But really, your behavior is the only thing over which you have total control. Use it to create happiness for yourself that is nearly impenetrable to the external world.