We’re told over and over again to do what makes us happy. A parent saying that they just want their child to be happy is definitely not unheard of. We’re told to stay positive and think happy thoughts. There are millions of books written on being happy and webinars on how to get out of a rut.
We’re told throughout our lives to do what makes us happy and I think it’s terrible advice.
As Americans we are obsessed with the pursuit of happiness. It’s our mantra — written in our constitution. The very foundation of being an American resides on our basic right to pursue a state of happiness and we do — to the point where it makes us miserable.
You might think that’s a little morbid, but there’s a truth to it. It’s a part of our culture to shame unhappiness. Positive people are better to be around. When you’re unhappy there’s something that needs to be fixed — a pill to take, a shrink to talk to. So not only are we unhappy, but we’re anxious about our unhappiness.
In return, we do things to make ourselves happy — move across the country, change careers, get a divorce. We’re told if we’re not happy where we are, something needs to change.
If we can’t find a quick fix, we hide the fact that we’re not happy because anything less than fine is unacceptable. So we’ve crafted our timelines and feeds to represent the best version of ourselves and our happiest selves.
We then have a false sense of inadequacy when others are better at forging their happy story.
What’s wrong with this American idealism of happiness is that it suggests it’s not okay to feel something. We’ve become programmed to run from our feelings and not sit and feel them deeply for a moment. As a result, there’s less authenticity in our relationships and our conversations.
Now, many of us expect much more out of life than is actually possible. Our culture has molded us to believe that everyone else is much happier than they actually are. As the distance between our reality and expectations grow, we make ourselves miserable. So we dabble with a mix of things to make ourselves happier, instead of adjusting our outlook.
Happiness is a moving target and what makes us happy at one moment is fleeting and might not be the same in the next. Making every life decision on what makes us happy at one point, will not make us happier in the long run.
We’re not meant to feel elated in every moment. The beauty of life is its ups and downs, its challenges and what comes from them. This makes “just do what makes you happy” terrible advice.
We should do what makes us better.