Happiness. What the hell is it and why do we all want it?!
One of the things people tell me when they approach me to work together, is that they want to feel ‘happy’.
But they’re not. They’re running their business that they started off being so passionate about, but now they’re exhausted.
They love their children but they rarely have time to spend with them in what they consider to be ‘quality time’.
They have the house and all the trimmings that seem like life ‘should’ be great! So why does it still feel like something’s missing?! (cue shame; guilt; what’s ‘wrong’ with me).
Rewind a few years, and I was the same. Married. 2 children. House. Everything seemed ‘great’. Fine!
But I was pretty miserable in my (former) work because I was experiencing a values clash. I was doing the work I was doing because I wanted to help people. I had high expectations of myself and the quality of what I did. But the system completely constrained this with crazy workloads and never enough resources and an expectation that people would just keep giving despite feeling out of alignment with their values (which was hugely common).
It also wasn’t work I was passionate about (over a number of different jobs) and I always wondered if I could take a risk and do something different – something that seems harder once you have a mortgage and kids and ‘commitments’.
Nothing in my external world could ‘make me happy’. I had to lean into trusting myself and connecting with my intuition and self worth enough to decide to make big changes. That started with signing up to study coaching and build a business I am deeply passionate about.
And yet, I find the pursuit of happiness perplexing in many ways. It is ONE emotion of the MANY emotions.
Yes, it feels good. But we are not meant to be aiming to feel endlessly happy all the time. That’s not realistic. I’d take a punt and guess that toxic positivity would be at play for anyone who was claiming to be happy ALL the time. It bypasses what is actually happening and makes everything FINE!! Just fine (not).
I loved listening to a podcast recently by Dr Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University, called The Big Lies and The Truth About Happiness on the We Can Do Hard Things podcast with Glennon Doyle and others.
After listening to the experiences of the students she was living on College Campus with, and after becoming Head of College and finding an alarming number of Uni students were highly depressed and anxious:
“I started digging into this mental health crisis and it turns out this isn’t just stressed out type A Yale students, this is a national issue. So right now nationally, over 40% of college students report being too depressed to function most days, over 60% say that they feel overwhelmingly anxious, and more than 1 in 10 has seriously considered suicide in the last year”– Dr Laurie Santos.
And so she went on a mission to find ways to help people to be happier.
2 Ways of Defining Happiness (- Dr Santos):
- Being happy IN your life – this is about having a good ratio of positive to negative emotions (although I personally wouldn’t classify them as positive and negative).
- Being happy WITH your life – this is how satisfied you are with life overall.
Ideally, she says you want both. But sometimes that isn’t going to happen. She uses an example of friends who became new parents and were overall happy WITH their life and their newborn bub.
But the day to day grind of not enough sleep, dirty nappies and constant feeds meant they may have been less happy IN their lives day to day.
For me, making the decision to move to the beach and live a lifestyle that was aligned with my values, made me happier WITH my life.
Leaving a profession I was very lack lustre about to study coaching and start my business, developed happiness IN my life.
When I apply this framework to people that come to work with me, it’s really interesting.
Because when I speak to business owners and entrepreneurs who are heading for burnout; are overwhelmed, time poor and exhausted, they’re fast losing satisfaction WITH their life.
While they started their business full of passion and purpose, this has waned enormously over time, because they’re trying to be everything to everybody (except, most importantly, to themselves), and it’s a fast track to disillusionment and resentment.
So satisfaction WITH their life has dropped.
Satisfaction WITH their relationships has dropped. You might relate if you recognise close people in your life (eg your kids) getting resentful of you always being on a call when you’re supposed to be focused on them, or the conversation with your partner where they tell you that you’re always working, or being forever distracted on your phone 24/7 while almost never being fully present.
Then there’s being happy IN your life. If I apply this again to people who want to start coaching, they have lost their balance with this. The so-called negative emotions (which are SO important because they’re actually red flags trying SO HARD to tell you that something needs to change!) have overtaken the so-called positive ones:
- There are more feelings of being out of control; rushed; stressed; disillusioned; overwhelmed; worried; lonely; guilty; frustrated; resentful
- Than there are feelings like: joy, hope, curiosity, confidence, feeling optimistic, excited and playful.
So there’s a downturn (or a continuation) of not really being happy WITH or IN your life.
Which is what people are trying to find or get back to.
When I was trying to make my former career work out for me, it was just reinforcing feelings of stress, anxiety, resentment, feeling jaded and cynical and not to mention powerless. Which impacted on the way I showed up IN my life with my children and my hubby and my coping mechanisms.
I mostly work with people who haven’t truly experienced a great balance of both because their focus has always been on others (as mine was – people pleaser to the hilt!)
If that’s done in a resourceful way (which means taking care of yourself as the highest priority so you can then serve others, rather than taking care of others all day long and doing nothing to support yourself) this can be a big contributor towards happiness and life satisfaction.
But it’s clear that happiness declines if your focus is always out and never in (towards yourself).
If you want to boost your happiness, try these:
- Start to make yourself a priority – every day. Start very small – the EASIER it is, the more likely you will actually do it. I know you have heard this a million times but you’re likely not actually doing it. You don’t need a ‘morning routine’ if you don’t have anything else. You need to start with 5 uninterrupted minutes purely dedicated to you at the start of each day. Start with that. Yes, your business is important. And you will do more for your business by taking care of you than by ignoring yourself.
- Find something that would boost your happiness WITH your life. How do you feel about your business overall? If you had to rate your satisfaction on a 0-10 scale, where would you rate it? If you’re not a 10/10 a lot of the time, in terms of what you offer, who you work with, and how you think about work, chances are it could do with some big or little ‘tweaking’. Offering something different that feels exciting and light and fun. Letting go of clients who are draining you. Getting paid what you’re worth.
- Stop chasing HAPPINESS as the ultimate destination, and get curious about how you feel in general. Which feelings are more prevalent than happiness? Which ones do you suppress or repress because you were taught to avoid them?
These are most commonly anger and sadness because there were consequences to those emotions when you were growing up (eg being sent to your room; being told to be quiet; not being allowed to have a voice an opinion; not being validated when you did experience these emotions; being told that wasn’t what you were supposed to feel.
Take a stocktake of your happiness WITH and IN your life and see what comes out of it. Then you’ve got insights and awareness into both why you might want to be happier, and where to start.
If you’re keen to learn more about fulfilment, check out one of my recent blog post ‘Do You Feel A Bit Dumb For Not Feeling Fulfilled?’
Would you like some help to get clear on what would make you feel happier and more fulfilled?Emotions Fulfilment transformational coaching