As humans, we tend to make happiness very complicated. We withhold happiness for ourselves, we delay gratification, and we believe we only deserve to be happy when every little thing is perfectly in its place.
To put it another way, we tend to connect our happiness to some carrot we’re dangling in front of ourselves. So we walk around living our lives saying things like:
“I’ll only be happy when this happens”
“I won’t be happy until this happens.”
But do we ever actually let ourselves reach this goal state?
When we connect happiness to achievements, we might reach those goals and be happy for a brief second. But it’s fleeting. And in order to seek happiness again, we immediately set another goal. This is a really good way to kill off happiness before it even takes root. In fact, if you talk to people who have accomplished big things, however you define big, they will almost universally tell you there is a period of almost depression following the accomplishment of that goal.
So the question is, what if there’s another way? How do we feel happier in the day to day?
Happiness is simply defined as “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” Exhale. That seems much simpler, doesn’t it?
So let’s flip happiness on its achievement-based head for a minute. What if you fell in love with the process and not the goal? What if you allowed yourself to enjoy the journey and not the actual arrival at the destination? When you fall in love with the process, you can derive joy from every moment you are in pursuit of that goal.
In order to do this, there are three things you want to think about:
Know what it is you want
This sets your direction. So start by defining what you want. It might be work-oriented, or it might be related to your family or goals for a family and relationships. As an example I’ll expand upon, let’s say you want to become a medical doctor.
Be clear about the actions you need to take
Be sure you understand and lay out what actions you need to take that align with the path to what you want. Once you determine this path for yourself and stay the course, you’ll get a great confidence boost to know your life is moving in a direction of your choosing each day. So if your goal is to become a doctor and you already have your bachelor’s degree, then you’re going to have to study and take the MCAT and then attend medical school and complete a residency.
Find joy in taking those actions
If you don’t like the path your goal requires, then it might be a sign you’re moving toward something that won’t bring you happiness. If you want to be a doctor but are going to hate every day of medical school, then the degree is not going to change your life the way you think it will. In contrast, if you love what you are able to learn and do in medical school, then you are going to find happiness both with the goal you’ve set and throughout the process of achieving this goal.
I think the founding fathers got this part right when they protected Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as our unalienable rights. As long as we are pursuing our dreams, pursuing the vision we have for our life, then we can and should allow ourselves to be utterly happy.