Stop Worrying about Happiness
Stop Worrying about Happiness
That’s right, you read that correctly, the Minister of Happiness is telling you to stop worrying about happiness. What? Recently I’ve seen a number of posts on the internet about how we’re making everyone miserable by focusing too much on happiness. Supposedly people trying to be happy and not getting what they want out of this pursuit and it is making them miserable. I’ve even seen posts that suggest having an expectation of a happy life is making teens more anxious and stressed out.
My friends, this is all a bunch of click bait. Well the titles are anyways, just like mine was tonight. You see over the last decade or so happiness has become a hot topic, don’t believe me, take a walk through your local Barnes and Nobles and see how many books there are on the topic. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like the idea of being happier? The focus on happiness also has a good bit to do with the changing perceptions of younger generations. Perceptions and expectations of life change with each generation and younger people are focusing more on quality of life. What does this mean? Well what that means for younger people I think was best summarized in an article from Inc.com:
“For this group, happiness isn’t as focused on possessions or career status. Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities.”
The New America Dream
So what’s really changing in society are perceptions of what the American Dream really is. It used to be go to college, graduate, get a good job, get married, have kids, send them to college, retire and die. Sounds grim in a list doesn’t it. Implicit within that dream was that kids would do better than their parents did. I don’t think that idea has really changed, I believe what has changed is the definition of doing better. It used to be really easy to understand what that meant, there was even a lovely little saying we had to encapsulate the idea here in America, bigger is better.
So, in order to do better than your parents, you go to a more prestigious college, you get a job with more responsibility and a bigger salary, you buy a bigger house, a more expensive car and you take more expensive vacations. That has worked for generations in America, but how much bigger do things need to be? How many bedrooms do you really need for a four person family? How big of a pool in the backyard? How many people have to be able to fit into your SUV for it to be big enough? Honestly, how much bigger are things even able to get? How much more stress comes with that job, the debt?
I think what the younger generations are reacting to is whether or not bigger really is better? Does a bigger house, a bigger car and the connected debt make you happier? Does working like a dog to get ahead, so you have more money, do you any good if you have no time to enjoy your life? They are rebelling, like most young people do, against the ideas of their parents. They seem to be deciding that quality is in fact not the idea of bigger is better, but instead that less is more. You see this in the fact that car ownership is declining, fewer people are buying houses, delaying full-time employment and marriage in order to experience life more fully. It’s the idea that quality of life is best measured in terms of experience and memories and less so by bank accounts and security. This change, like all change, is disconcerting to most people in the older generations and a darn right outrage to older baby boomers.
So is worrying about happiness making you miserable
The answer is that it can be. You see if you’re worrying about something it causes you stress and the more stressed out you are, the less happy you are going to be. The stress over happiness typically comes from two things. First, a confusion between pleasure and happiness, thinking that pleasure is happiness and trying to be in a consistent state of pleasure. That is an untenable condition that leads to disappointment and less happiness. The second thing that causes this stress is also related to unrealistic expectations. You see people often think that happiness is like a mountain, you climb and climb and then when you reach the peak, boom, like a grand view you have happiness and you’re done.
There are several things people have to realize about happiness. First, the goal is not happiness as a goal, but to be happier, to improve your life. What’s important, what many of us who climb mountains come to realize, is that in fact the journey really is more important than the destination. When you have this realization, you also come to figure out that the happiest people are those who are able to find happiness in everyday things.
It really is the journey, not the destination
When I did my first big hiking adventure, going to basecamp on Mount Everest, pre-trip I was utterly focused on setting foot on Mount Everest. My first view of Mount Everest was an amazing moment in my life.
But things happen on a trek happen and at our final stop the night before going to base camp it snowed. Now, this would not prevent us going to base camp less than three miles away, but it left us with a difficult decision. You see there was a pass we needed to go over at 18,000 feet and with the snow, it would likely not be passable. So our choice became go to Mt. Everest or do a big hike and swing down several thousand feet and back up several feet into the Gokyo Valley. Pre-trip, I would have never even entertained the idea of skipping basecamp, and I think most of my trekking companions would have been in the same mindset. However, the night we made the decision it took us minutes to decide to skip Mt. Everest. You see what I, and they had learned was in fact, that the journey had become far more important than the destination. It was a life-changing realization and one I seem to share with Millennials. It’s one reason that even as a baby boomer by birth, I have started joking that I am the first Millennial.
In order to be happier than you are today, you have to make change. As I talk about often on this blog that means finding ways out of your comfort zone, finding adventures at that point that can help change your perspective on life. However, one way to be happier that I don’t talk about nearly enough, is to extract more happiness out of everyday things.
Happiness in Everyday Life
This may sound a bit hokey, but life is magic and amazing. We all know this, we’ve known it since we were children, but life speeds up, we get responsible and busy and we stop noticing as much. So one really good way to come back to what you already know is just to slow down. One reason that I love hiking so much is that it’s a slow process, walking speed, or in my case meandering speed, is the perfect speed to notice how amazing the world is. There is beauty everywhere, flowers, butterflies, beautiful skies and sunsets. In our everyday life, it’s the same, there is a sunrise every morning, a sunset every afternoon, stars at night, full moons, laughing children a nice cup of coffee or tea. There are things everyday that can make us happier if we can just slowdown and take the time to notice them.
So my friends, my reminder tonight is this, be open to change and new perceptions and slowdown. There are things everyday that can make you happier, don’t spend time worrying about how happy you are, just do the things you need to do to have happier days my friends. ~ Rev Kane