Aristotle, 2.300 years ago, used to say that all people want is to be happy. That’s the motive behind all actions and decisions. He didn’t say anything about it being right or wrong, he just said that’s the way it is. Of course, two millennia later we understand motivation and happiness a little deeper. We know, for example, that people don’t always do things looking for happiness. There’s a whole discussion about how we prefer to be right than to be happy sometimes. Whenever we do things like that though, the result afterwards is frustration, which translates as unhappiness. The catch 22 is that when we try to be happy proactively, we also end up frustrated and unhappy. So, what gives? Why can’t we be happy?
Happiness is a state of mind, literally, it’s a mindset. You don’t find happiness, you don’t become happy. You’re either happy already or you’re not. The things we do in order to find happiness only frustrate us even more. That’s why asking ‘how to be happy?’ is stupid. There’s no such thing.
Let’s reverse engineer happiness to understand what’s the problem. Unhappy people don’t feel what they expect to feel for a reason (sometimes multiple reasons). Let’s say I have created, since I was a child, this idea in my head that happiness is this state of bliss where everything happens as I want, where I’m married to the perfect person and have two perfect kids. My job is thrilling, full of challenges that I tackle successfully every time. I’m a leader, my subordinates love me, my superiors think I’m a star, and I’m on my way to become the next CEO. Except that life insists on not happening this way. I ended up marrying a bitch that complains about every single habit that I have. My kids are a pain to deal with. I have a dead end job, my boss and coworkers hate me and I see no way of getting a promotion, let along become a CEO. That makes me unhappy. I don’t want this life, I want the thrilling existence of my dreams. So I Google ‘How to be happy’ on a desperate attempt to find an article that will finally tell me the secret that some people seem to have and refuse to share with others. Well, that’s stupid, isn’t it?
Some people have this expectation that happiness must be this eternal state of bliss where “nothing bad happens” and it’s all love, joy, and success. This point of view naturally drives this kind of people to feel unhappy when challenging, frustrating, or “bad” things happen.
Maybe you’re thinking that’s not you. Your case is different, and I know nothing about your life, I’m an idiot. Maybe you think you’re happy and you’re just reading this article because the title intrigued you. In fact, I see more people claiming to be happy than otherwise. More often than not, though, they’re wearing a mask and they don’t even know it. Whatever the case, unhappiness has a lot to do with broken expectations. We have this idea of happiness is and it doesn’t match reality, so we feel frustrated. At the same time, being happy is not a matter of “doing something”. We’re so used to looking up instructions to learn new things that we don’t realize happiness is not one of those things we can learn.
That’s why the question is stupid. It’s naive. There’s no amount of reading that would teach you how to be happy. If there’s any advice I can give you, it’s adjust your expectations, or better, get rid of them altogether. Stop expecting the world to be your playground. Don’t expect things to happen the way you want. But obviously that’s not easy and you probably won’t follow my advice anyway (even if you want to). Changing one’s mindset is one of the most difficult things a person can do, and through all my career dealing with people, I’ve seen it happen only a handful of times. People sometimes think they’ve had epiphanies, they think they’ve changed, but if you look at their lives from a long-term perspective, you notice that the only things that changed were the surroundings. They got better things, they make more money, they associate themselves with different people, but they are still the same inside. They feel happy when the world mirrors their imagination, they become unhappy when it does its own thing. As people get older, they can go two ways. They either understand that life has a will of its own and accept that things might not happen as they expect – and that’s ok. Or they become depressed, increasingly frustrated about all the things that didn’t happen in their lives, the lost dreams, the broken expectations. We call it midlife crisis.
There’s no easy solution for the unhappiness dilemma. Therapy can help. Medication can help. But in the end, real happiness depends heavily on a massive change in perspective. No pill, coach, or therapist can influence change at this level. It all helps in one way or another, specially because if a person is looking for a solution, there’s a proactive movement to promote change. We must be careful when looking for help though, because even though medication and professionals can be extremely beneficial, all that also provides artificial solutions that don’t last if there’s no real transformation.
If you’re living this dilemma and you’re trying to find happiness, ask yourself these questions:
– What do you think happiness is?
– What exactly do you expect to happen in your life so you can be happy?
– If you were happy, what would be different in your life?
– How to you picture yourself as a happy person?
– What things do you associate with happiness? (money, love, friends, family, career, etc.) – try not to be politically correct when answering this question!
These answers, if responded sincerely and thoughtfully, can give you many clues to why you feel unhappy. It will show you your expectations, it will tell you what you think you have to do in order to be happy. It’s crucial to take these answers and reflect profoundly upon them. Maybe you’re right and your expectations are realistic. Maybe your wrong and you’re building castles in your head, expecting your life to be something it will never be.
In one way or another, remember that, above all, happiness is a mindset, it’s a way of seeing the world and thinking. Actually, searching for happiness may not be the best way to feel better at all. Instead of trying to be happy, deal with the root problems that cause you to feel unhappy (including incorrect expectations).