By Brianna Wiest
Everyone is on a search for more happiness – and if they don’t call it “happiness,” they call it love, or peace, or success. The desire to evolve is embedded in the human condition, but in a world where our basic needs are no longer variables, we’re left to try to manage our Stone Age minds in a modern, material world. Oftentimes, they collide.
We’re told that we can choose happiness, but we aren’t told why it feels like we can’t (or why we don’t). We’re told that a good life is found in love and family and a good job and a stable income, yet not why many people with all of this and more are still profoundly dissatisfied. (The fate of many celebrities – who are often perceived to be some of the most “successful” and privileged people around – illustrate this well). The truth is that we don’t know ourselves as well as we need to, and a lot of it is influenced by the common ideas of what makes for a “good life.” The things we chase are, ultimately, the things we become, so we need to set the record straight on what will actually make you happy and what won’t.
What won’t make you happier: Working less.
What will: Working more efficiently.
We say we want to work less, but when given the opportunity to take some down time, we’re often left stir-crazy and eager to return to the office. Working less is not the issue, it’s learning to work better. It’s being routine, disciplined, and very focused – three things that people usually don’t develop.
What won’t make you happier: Having more friends.
What will: Cherishing and deepening the relationships that you already have.
When we imagine our “happy lives,” we see ourselves surrounded by friends and loved ones. Certainly, there’s something to be said for feeling as though you belong to a tribe – but when it comes to the idea that having more people in your life will make you feel better, that’s usually an illusion. What matters more is developing deeper, more intimate connections with a few important people.
What won’t make you happier: Having fewer problems.
What will: Having confidence that you can manage the inevitable challenges that arise in life.
Most of the problems that cause us stress and anxiety are not the problems themselves, they’re how we think about the problems. We worry because we think doing so will prepare us in case something goes wrong; anxiety is a major motivator for many people. Yet, this is also a misperception. It is not having fewer problems that makes you feel better, but having the ability to problem solve and adapt.
What won’t make you happier: Feeling superior to other people.
What will: Feeling connected to them.
Though the word “success” once meant to succeed someone – to follow them – today, it usually alludes to someone who is superior to others. That superiority is usually a defining trait of what we perceive our best lives to consist of, and it’s usually something we crave only when we feel disconnected to those around us (it’s the indirect route to receiving love).
What won’t make you happier: Changing your body (losing weight).
What will: Learning to love your body even when you don’t like it.
Weight loss is such a huge issue for many people – aside from being a legitimate medical concern, it’s a very common anxiety. Weight is a means of safety. It is how our bodies physically manifest the need to feel secure (does it make sense why people go to war with themselves over it?) Regardless, losing it (or adapting to a more ideal image of yourself) will not make you feel better about yourself, as that kind of self-love is conditional. What will make you feel better is learning to love who you are regardless of how you look, then adjusting your appearance if so you choose. The real love – which isn’t just skin deep – must come first. Loss and gain is inevitable – our bodies aren’t getting better with age – so it’s whether or not you’re able to live with yourself regardless that counts.
What won’t make you happier: Uprooting your life and taking off to start over.
What will: Finding the root of the issues that keep arising.
It’s normal to wonder whether or not giving up would be easier than confronting the demons that are keeping the deepest parts of us locked up. Everyone reaches their saturation point, it’s a matter of whether or not it prompts you to “fight” or “flight.” The work of delving even deeper into ourselves is what we try to avoid, and yet, it’s usually what we must do. Otherwise, we just end up just repeating old patterns and ending up right where we started in the first place.
What won’t make you happier: Feeling less stressed.
What will: Using stress to your advantage.
Studies show that some stress is actually good for us, but only when we are able to interpret it well. In other words: when we see it as something to utilize it can energize us, when we see it as something scary, it can paralyze us.
What won’t make you happier: Disconnecting, spending less time on your phone.
What will: Addressing the compulsion to “anxiety scroll” in the first place.
Sure, a tech-free life can seem luxurious, but if you feel the need to disconnect, you’re probably already heavily reliant on technology in the first place. Simply putting the phone down or making less time for social media will not make you feel better, but addressing the fear or social anxiety that leads you to constantly “check in” on things definitely will.
What won’t make you happier: Having a lot more money.
What will: Having less bills, a better budget, and controlling the impulse to consume.
Most people function within something called a “percentage bias.” If they are used to spending 30% of their income on dinners and drinks, they will likely continue to do so even if they get a raise at work. In other words, our habits are our habits, no matter what external circumstances crop up. If we feel the need to overspend, we’ll always be in debt. It’s (usually) not about making more money, but addressing the emotional issues tied to the money you do have. That’s when you’ll actually feel the impact of some the extra income.
What won’t make you happier: Feeling less pain.
What will: Not being afraid of pain.
We worry to prep ourselves for pain. It’s a form of self-conditioning. We think that if we can imagine and embrace the pain of a hypothetical situation, it won’t really affect us if it actually comes to pass. This mindset is ludicrous, and is the reason we experience pain in the first place. It’s not feeling less pain, but not being afraid to feel pain in the first place. No, it’s not pleasant, but you won’t really live until you’re not making every choice with the intention of just taking the “easiest way out.” It is in trying to insulate ourselves from pain that we create pain.