Trying too hard to be happy is making us sad

Carla Delgado

There’s nothing wrong with feeling down, disappointed, or unsatisfied – we’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s just a phase, and sometimes, it takes a little bit longer than that. Happiness is a universal goal, and everyone struggles with it. Whether we admit it or not, we constantly put pressure on ourselves to be happy. When we look at ourselves and compare our lives to other people’s, sometimes it can only go two ways: we feel bad because they look so much more fortunate than us, or we feel worse because we are more fortunate than them and yet we’re still not happy. If we judge other people’s happiness by what they post online, what you are feeling bad over is just their curated version to appear happy. The need to feel happy is what’s going to make us unhappy even further because if we don’t reach our expectation of ourselves, we will feel even worse than before.

There are many instances that come along where we feel like we should be happy, but we’re not. When it comes to holidays, we especially feel the pressure to be happy. Take Christmas, for example. It’s a holiday that most people look forward to. The festivities are very exciting and many families get to bond after time spent apart. Everyone is celebrating, and the expectation to be happy is at a high. For some people, however, the holiday season brings nothing but grief. They get overwhelmed by the longingness for their families or for the traditions that aren’t there anymore. One can’t help remember the past celebrations, and it’s easy to get carried by the waves of nostalgia. The same goes for birthdays or for any other holiday.

We’ve all heard it before: that happiness is the journey and not the destination. To some extent, that has some truth to it. Happiness shouldn’t be the goal at the end of the road, because when you reach it, disappointment and restlessness will begin to kick in. If you put so much weight on a particular event to make you happy, the moment you reach it, you’ll scramble to find another moment to rely your happiness on, and then you’ll be so easily unhappy again. Contentment shouldn’t be based on your whether or not you reach your goals, because even if you have not yet reached them, you are still worthy of happiness. Happiness will be more elusive than it already is if you keep anchoring it to material wants and life achievements.

The dilemma is that we are afraid of change, but we are also afraid of remaining stagnant. We’re unhappy when things stay the same, but also when everything is overwhelmingly different. What happens is that we want things to be the same, only better. We want to keep doing the same thing every single day, make no change in the routine whatsoever, exert the same amount of effort and thought, and have things come out better than they usually do. The problem is that this does not just happen. If you have little control over the situation – a dead-end job, a failed relationship, losing yourself to a new version you – then look at what you can control: your attitude about it.

Sometimes, things don’t need to change. We do. When we change the way we look at things, when we look at it from a different perspective, the very same things will seem to be different. A situation that looked so grim might pave the way to better opportunities after all. We keep waiting for happiness to come to our lives, and we grow so tired of waiting, not realizing that the happiness we seek is right inside of us. Happiness is a mindset. If you enter a competition expecting to win, you’ll be sorely disappointed getting second place. However, if you entered without expecting you’ll win anything, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the same silver medal. It’s how we look at things that define our contentment.

Although there is no surefire formula to being happy, what’s important to remember is that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s alright to feel scared, lost, or dissatisfied sometimes. Instead of pressuring yourself to get out of the rut (and then feeling even worse when you can’t), you should ride the wave of sadness out. Accept it, work through it, and learn from it. This is not to say that unhappiness is wonderful, the point is that it’s a fact of life. There’s a big difference in finding sadness beautiful and finding beauty in sadness. It is when we’re most reflective on what’s happening in our lives, and perhaps some good can even come out of all that thinking. Just always remember to breathe. American author Colleen Hoover has said, “Sometimes in life, we need a few bad days in order to keep the good ones in perspective,” and that’s something worth pondering over.

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