Don’t Expect To Be Happy All the Time

Toby Hazlewood

You might just live a happier life as a result.

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A rollercoaster wouldn’t be a rollercoaster without the ups and downs — it’d be a monorail.

Why then do we hope that our lives will be spent in an unchanging and perpetual state of beige happiness, one day as perfect as the next? The happy times in our lives feel good precisely because we have the bad days to compare them against. The ups and the downs. It’s all relative.

I’ve wasted many hours contemplating happiness in my life — time when I could have been doing something useful (that might have made me feel happier).

Happiness is a component of my overall wellbeing. Like the other components, it’s one that comes and goes, ebbs and flows.

  • Am I feeling healthy? Check.
  • Relaxed? Kind of.
  • Rested? Sure.
  • Happy? Errr…

As supposedly enlightened beings it seems to me that we humans spend way too much time chasing after happiness, like a predator hunting its prey. We think and act as though happiness is something we can grasp rather than something that happens as a byproduct of how we live.

We compare ourselves to others who seem happier than we do, as though happiness existed on a universal scale (“I’m only a 6, why are they an 8?”).

We convince ourselves that if we crack the formula and hold onto it tightly, we can attain happiness and keep it forever.

Perpetual happiness is a myth.

It’s taken time and blood, sweat and tears (occasionally of joy and more often, of sadness) to learn the fundamental truth of happiness — this recent article completely nails it:

“Living in a perpetual state of happiness isn’t good for anyone. It makes us fragile. What we need is a tolerance for pain. We need a tolerance for discomfort, emotional and physical.”
— Jessica Wildfire

Happiness isn’t something we can experience perpetually. More importantly, we shouldn’t want or hope to either.

The tolerance for pain and discomfort that Jessica describes is an essential skill for surviving, let alone thriving in this world. It’s only built up when we experience and learn from the crushing failures that inevitably happen.

The failed relationships and divorces, the business ventures that fold, the unread articles, the promotions that go to another applicant, the races lost — these are the events that force us to grow and learn. These give us the strength to carry on, hopefully better prepared if a little bruised and battered.

We go forth with a greater determination to succeed next time. The eventual successes bring happiness.

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Recognise the bad times as necessary and helpful

Times of adversity seldom feel happy when we’re in the midst of them.

I didn’t feel happy while working through divorce, any more than I did when other relationships failed. But they prompted me to do the work to discover who I was and what I wanted rather than living as a perpetual accessory to someone else or trying to fix others’ issues to feel better about my own. Discovering how to be truly happy on my own made it possible to play my role in a happy and sustainable marriage.

When I’ve felt ignored, unappreciated or like my talents were wasted in my work, I didn’t feel happy. Those experiences and feelings prompted me to explore new ventures, to practice new skills and to find other opportunities and outlets. Figuring out that I could be happy in my work if I had writing as a route to creative fulfillment was the result.

The times when I’ve felt uncomfortable with my physical appearance and despondent regarding my health and fitness weren’t happy in the least. But the actions that I took to rectify the situation were prompted by what I saw in the mirror and how I felt. Now I prioritise my fitness and wellbeing with a regime that makes me feel good inside and out — I feel happy as a result.

Happiness cannot be a constant in most of our lives — we need the times of adversity to grow from as well.

Embrace the ups and downs.

Ups and downs are inevitable.

Even if positive, happy-making things were to keep happening, hedonic adaptation is nature’s way of dulling the shine. We get used to the good things and become desensitised to them. Soon, they feel less special and our happiness relies on ever bigger and better things.

My childhood was broadly a happy one, but I’m certain there were the days when I felt sad, frustrated, angry, overlooked, jealous, fearful and any number of other ‘unhappy’ emotions. Characterising it as happy generally, is a reflection upon the overall feeling.

In the same way, if I reflect on my life now but in 20 years' time, I’m sure I’d reach the same conclusion. I have a roof over my head, food in the cupboard, a job, hobbies, and most importantly, a family that loves me.

It’s only because I’m in the midst of things that I experience frustrations that may degrade my happiness:

  • The boss who doesn’t notice the good work I’m doing.
  • The occasional feeling of being taken for granted by my wife and kids.
  • The painful twinges I get while weight-training that make me question why I’m not relaxing on the couch instead.
  • The article that I write which seems to get missed by the outside world.

Each of these trivial adversities could be viewed as a reason to be unhappy. The knack is in turning the perspective on its head — to view each as an opportunity to thicken the skin, to become more tolerant, more patient and better equipped for weathering life.

Final Thought

Happiness can seem elusive and intangible but can also be taken from the simplest of things.

A common failing for many is in hoping or expecting happiness to be perpetual and everlasting. It’s made worse by our natural tendency to compare our happiness to others’ which is skewed enormously by the social media highlight reel that plays before us daily.

If we are constantly chasing or trying to cling to happiness, our failure is assured and our innate happiness will suffer.

We need instead to focus on living life in a way that we enjoy the successes, learn from the failures and apply ourselves consistently throughout.

Happiness will be more likely to follow as a result.

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