Be Brave: Find out what makes you happy

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I believe that one of the biggest obstacles standing between us and happiness is the ability to identify what in the hell it is that makes us happy.

How can we pursue happiness if we don’t know what it is?

Most adults know that happiness is not universal.  The things that make me smile will not necessarily make you smile.

The prospect of travel, for example, makes me leap out of bed in the morning – but it might bore the crap out of you or give you an anxiety attack. Thinking about writing gets me so excited that I have trouble falling asleep at night, while some people consider writing a chore.  Going to the gym, on the other hand, is nothing more than a necessary evil to me.

Happiness is very personal, but it’s not always an easy thing to name.

Why is it so hard to describe our own version of happiness?

It seems like it should be easy to say what makes you happy – or what could make you happy.  And yet so many of us struggle with it.  We struggle with being able to separate our own wants and needs from the things we are told we should want and need.  We struggle with accepting that wanting to be happy doesn’t make us selfish assholes.  We struggle with the fear that our wants and needs are too small or too big or too frivolous or too… something that would make us not OK.

When you put your hopes and dreams into words, you expose the most vulnerable parts of yourself.  The minute you realize what could make you truly and deeply happy is the moment you really feel the fear of not getting it.

It takes courage to define happiness for yourself.

But you can’t get there without knowing where there is.

Where do you start?  How do you begin to identify what you want, what your passion is, so to speak?

How do you begin to peel back the layers of what society, religion, your parents, your friends and HGTV have said you should want?

Forget about the money.

The first step, I think, in identifying what would make you happy is to dispel the myth that having X amount of dollars would make you happy.  A lot of us get tangled up there.  We focus on how to make a fortune, how to become “financially independent”, or how to get out of debt.  But we’re confusing the means for the end.

The dream of winning the lottery (or being financially independent or debt free) is almost never about having piles of money.  How many of us have fantasized about swimming in pools of money Scrooge McDuck style?

OK, fine, maybe that would be cool. Once.  Maybe twice.  But then what?

Chances are, the real lottery fantasy is about what you would do with the money.  Or maybe it’s really about what you would do if you didn’t have to worry about money and the bills that it pays.

Ask yourself:

  • What would you do today if you had unlimited funds available?
  • What would you do for the next 6 months if you didn’t have to worry about paying your bills?

Yes, these answers matter in the real world.

My husband used to go on for hours about what he would do if he won the lottery, and I would get furious.  It was, I told him, a complete waste of time and served to do nothing but remind me of all the things we did not have and could not do.  These daydreaming marathons of his left me frustrated and disappointed rather than inspired.  “If you’re not happy,” I would tell him, “why don’t you spend that mental energy on something that could actually happen?”

In other words, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were inclined to skip this exercise all together and chalk it up to bullshit mind games that produced nothing in the Real World.  I get it.

But this first step is important.  It can’t be the last step, but it’s a necessary first step.  While merely looking at a map will not help you move from point A to point B, you do have to select point B on the metaphorical map.

You cannot choose happiness if you don’t know what it looks like for you.  You cannot follow a passion that you don’t recognize.

You will have to be brave.  You will have to trust that there will be a way once you’ve named your point B.  You will have to have faith that you are not given desires and passions because God likes to screw with you, but because you are meant to be happy.

Be brave.

What would you do today if you had unlimited funds available?  What would you do for the next 6 months if you didn’t have to worry about paying the bills?

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Miss Britt, allisonsreading. allisonsreading said: Miss Britt: Be Brave: Find out what makes you happy http://bit.ly/hE9Erp [...]

  2. Megan says:

    You know I’d pack up the family and just travel. Hire a tutor for the kid (more peaceful that way) and just go and take pictures and write about my experiences.

    • Miss Britt says:

      For a girl who claims not to be very ambitious – that’s a pretty ambitious definition of happy.

      • Megan says:

        We’re talking about no money worries and thus the freedom to just go – perfect world stuff. Unfortunately I have neither luxury right now, so I take pictures and write and take one-day vacations when I can and longer ones once a year (all of which makes me happy, too). Soon I will not be anchored to this place and I can start planning more adventures!

        • Miss Britt says:

          SPOILER ALERT: you’ve got it figured out, I think. You know the things you want to do – daily, every day forever and ever, whatever – and you make an effort to do them as often as possible. You’ve found ways to fit them into your real life.

          But I don’t know if you realize how rare your desires to travel, write and take photos are.

          • Megan says:

            I guess I don’t because I can’t imagine why everyone else doesn’t want the same thing! ;)

          • Miss Britt says:

            Well, you tend to hang out with a lot of people who want those things, too.

            But I would say the MAJORITY of people I know who aren’t on the Internet have almost zero interest in photos, writing OR travel.

            For real.

  3. Avitable says:

    I would write a book while traveling around and visiting friends.

    • Miss Britt says:

      That definitely sounds like fun!

      Question:

      Is it that you want to write a book… or want to have written a book?

      • Avitable says:

        While I would love to have a published book as an accomplishment, I actually want to write a book. I have so many ideas that just don’t fit into blog posts and want to sit down with 6 months of no responsibilities except writing.

  4. Hockeymandad says:

    This paragrapgh “Why is it so hard to describe our own version of happiness?” is some brilliant words my friend. I worry about everyone and everything else so much that I honestly could not answer your questions. I actually have no idea what truly makes me happy. Most often I don’t care just as long as those around me, especially the wife and kids, are not unhappy. The sacrifice for that is great I know, but I worry too much about being that selfish asshole. So I guess my answer to your question would be to just try and figure out what I would do, figure out what actually makes me happy.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think the fact that you realize that actually puts you leaps and bounds ahead of the masses. Almost all of us have those fears bred deeeep into us.

      I want to tell you a secret:

      My family actually got HAPPIER when I started worrying less about making them happy.

  5. Lynne says:

    I wonder if worrying about or thinking about what makes one happy is age-related? While having a discussion about this with my daughter it occurred to me that happiness is something I stopped thinking about a long time ago. Sure, when I’m in the moment of something that makes me happy (playing with my granddaughter, reading a book, listening to my bird chirp) I’m happy – but I don’t look for it or think about it anymore. And for me, realizing this, it seems there are now few times when I’m unhappy.

    Maybe it has to do with expectations?

    • Miss Britt says:

      It might be age, and it might also be personality.

      Some people are able to very easily adjust, I think, to what’s expected of them. That’s not a bad thing – unless you’re not that type of person and you beat yourself because you aren’t.

  6. Joy says:

    We have (and will again) use the time and money to travel to another place (for us, it’s France) and live for a time, immersed in another language and culture. Especially the food and wine part of it. It takes us years of saving money, luckily my husband’s employer is one that has a program that is amenable to this and helps with the saving, but we forgo the fancy technology and big toys to invest in this, while still living decently while we are at home. It’s a balance. And it’s fun to work toward. Even when it’s hard as heck sometimes. :)

    • Miss Britt says:

      That is so awesome that you know that AND that you’ve figured out how to make it a reality. And you’re right – I think it’s a balance between enjoying the here and now while working towards the big ones. But, as you pointed out, when the big ones are REALLY great, the working towards it doesn’t feel like low points between high points.

  7. Mandi Bone says:

    I would travel. I would also buy a really nice camera and learn to take pictures.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Why travel?

      Why take pictures?

      And I’m curious – what camera do you have now?

      • Mandi Bone says:

        I think that travel makes me happy because I like to remember that this world is much bigger than my small town in Ohio. I have a degree in Travel and Tourism that I really didn’t use professionally. I love the planning of a trip.
        I just have a point and shoot. I took took the photography sessions at Blogher and have been practicing with my camera.

  8. DemMom says:

    I think, like Hockeymandad, I would have to take that time to figure out WHAT would make me happy. I don’t want to live in a mansion, live like a stereotypical “gazillionaire.” I’d stay in my house, do all the work to it I’ve been dreaming of, send my kids to college without financial worries. Help my mom, my in-laws. But what would I do? I’m not sure.

  9. Poppy says:

    Travel way more, learn way more languages, see if some of the big geeks wanna have a conversation with me and if so befriend them because this not having geeks nearby anymore freaking sucks ass (enlightened words, I KNOW), and I would love to help people solve problems. People seem to have a lot of problems they’re stuck inside of and I feel like I have good ways of approaching them to help them out of them, but I don’t have formal training in that.

  10. i think i am missing the point of what you are saying because in general i am a happy person. it is more my attitude than things i do or don’t have. like today, i am happy because even though it is only 17 degrees outside and my furnace decided overnight to stop working, i have a job that will let me leave early to meet my uncle who is an expert in all things hvac. i’m thrilled that he loves me enough to come investigate and fix the problem and choose to focus on that aspect of today. same with the suv breaking…another uncle is lending me his “extra” car while mine gets work done so that i don’t have to rush the mechanic. that generosity warms my heart and keeps me happy. oh…and i lost one of my favorite earrings this morning, but i have several jewelry boxes full of other earrings so it isn’t the end of the world. i choose to focus on the positive things so i can stay happy.
    i guess what i am saying is i find happiness to be largely a state of mind as opposed to what i do for a living or where i am standing. as long as i have friends, family and dogs in my life, i’m happy doing just about anything…anywhere.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think using a generic word like “happy” causes some confusion.

      Let me clarify first by saying that I didn’t ask what you would have or where you would live.

      I asked what you would DO – meaning, how you would spend your time.

      I don’t think people who want to pursue a passion are generally unhappy people on a moment to moment basis. I have always been the type of person who smiles and laughs a lot and am generally optimistic.

      It may be that you’re already fulfilling your calling at the moment and living your passion.

    • Faiqa says:

      I love this response.

  11. Lisa says:

    Being creative makes me happy. Making things with my hands, whether it’s cakes or food or silly tote bags makes me happy. I love taking photos. If I had unlimited funds my house would have a huge studio where I could paint and sew and learn to throw pottery and make jewelry and take & process photos, and it would have a kick ass sound system so I could rock out while I did it. And a fridge. I’d probably spend entire days in there.

    Yes, I’ve spent some time thinking this one out. ;-)

    • Miss Britt says:

      I love how many outlets you have for your creativity!!

      Also – the first time I read your comment, I read it as you wanting to stay in your fridge for days. I was going to suggest you may want to rethink the diet if that was your wildest fantasy.

  12. FireMom says:

    I had a lengthy discussion once about happiness and finally found that joy is the personal, inside thing and happiness is the outward response. I am a joyful person. I have joy in my life, in my family and in many things. I am not always a HAPPY person. So for me, it’s not really about finding happiness. It about allowing my joy to show others the happiest version of me.

    For me, there is a difference. It’s how it makes sense in my head.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think I’m going to have to do a site glossary because those words can have so many slightly different meanings, depending on how they are being used.

      I think you can be a joyful person and not be living your passion. For me, that’s OK, but it’s not as good as it can get.

  13. Momma says:

    Generally, I think I’m a Pollyanna. However, the happiest I’ve EVER been was 8 years ago, when nothing was about me! It was all about service to others. I wonder if that’s the key?
    We were asked by our priest to go to live in an Inuit village in “New Quebec” (the arctic part of Quebec). We were expected to serve in a French catholic parish, though we only spoke English. Took a lot to learn to speak and work in French, and to exist alongside a totally unfamiliar Inuit society, among people who were only a generation away from living in the igloo. It was awesome! Lived there 4 years, thousands of miles of travel each year, sometimes in very small planes in blizzards, the only way one can travel in that part of the world, that and snowmobile or dogsled. In an area probably larger than Texas there are no roads. I miss it desperately!

    I don’t think about what MAKES me happy. All I know is, to just exist makes me dreadfully unhappy. So, after 4 years of our return to ‘civilization’, we’ve been asked to trade homes for 2 years, to move a couple of thousand miles away, to run a small bed and breakfast in a 200 year old antique filled home. Of COURSE we will! Afterwards, we intend to move to the West Coast of BC to live. Life is an adventure. Oh yes, Poppa will be 70 this year and I will be 68. We’ve always wanted to try the next thing.

    • Miss Britt says:

      That is AMAZING!!

      And no, nothing can “make” us happy. I think we choose happiness, actually, every day. But doing more than existing is a choice, too – one that you obviously know how to make well. :-)

  14. Kathy says:

    Right now, happy is such a difficult thing to define for me. I would love to make a living doing my photography. Having a job that I love, being able to set my own schedule, be able to spend time at home working while my husband cares for our daughter.

    After Thanksgiving, my 27 year old husband had a stroke and my entire world became upended. And actually, my idea of happiness is very similar now. But with the exception of my daughter and myself caring for my husband. But if he was able to care for her? Heaven.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I don’t mean to ignore the part about your husband having a stroke – because, WOW, that must be so much for your family to deal with right now – but something else in your comment jumped out to me.

      “I would love to make a living doing my photography.”

      What is it about ‘making a living’ from your photography that appeals to you? Would you be with winning the lottery and being able to do photography for free? It’s possible that you could clarify your passion a little bit and find something that’s closer than you think.

      • Kathy says:

        I have found such solace behind the camera. If I didn’t have to worry about money, being able to take pictures and capture memories would be wonderful. I am working on becoming a photographer for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep which is an organization that connects photographers that have lost their young children through prematurity or sickness. I would love to be a part of other organizations that do similar things. Be able to bring happiness to others that are in some of the darkest points in their lives.

        • Miss Britt says:

          Cool. A little tip then: focus on the being able to do photography all the time part more and less on the “making a living from photography”. That’s a how – a way you could do photography more – but it’s just ONE way, and focusing on that (which is what I was actually trying to get at in this post), often causes us to miss other just as valid ways to make the exact same dream come true.

          I’m not sure if that makes any more sense than the post. lol

          • Kathy says:

            A little bit. And I’m working on that. I have an office job 3 days a week and then the rest of the week, I do my photography and the virtual assistance company I have. Sometimes, the only time I have to myself are the few hours a week I’m able to eek out for that. When my husband gets home from the hospital, I’m hoping to have more time as the travel time will be cut out of my weekly schedule.

            This was a great post though! Especially reading other people’s comments. Recognizing the keys is awesome.

          • Momma says:

            Oh my word, Kathy! I was wrong saying that volunteering in the arctic was my happiest time. Without question, I was happiest when, after Poppa was discharged from the hospital following his heart attack, I could reach over in the middle of the night to the other side of the bed and feel him next to me. Pure bliss. I pray that comes for you soon.

          • Kathy says:

            Wonderful! I’m so glad you got that. My husband comes home tomorrow, so I am very very ready for that moment.

  15. Nancy says:

    For me, happiness is a constantly moving target. No one single thing, person, or activity can be my end point. Perhaps the process of it– the ebb and flow from one moment to another, the sense of fulfillment upon completion, the promise in a new prospect — is where it truly lies for me.

  16. Fog Spinner says:

    I wouldn’t do anything different really. I would pay off all those looming medical bills. That would be nice. I would still get up and go to work because that keeps me sane in the face of this… whatever this endless waiting is…. My husband would still go to work because he would have to be out from under my feet!
    Since we are splurging though, I would buy a piece of property so I could live WITH my animals (on the same land… not the, well nevermind, I would hope you know what I mean) I would love to be able to step out my door and know everyone was OK and not drive 20 minutes. I would have a BIG barn and a small house.
    Work and homeschool would still go on. I wouldn’t travel until after the transplant. Then maybe a train trip. I think that would be fun. One through the national parks. We’d go now if it wasn’t for money and medication. ;-)

    • Miss Britt says:

      I’m curious. You seem pretty content now. I think some people might be naturally more easily content. Have you ever felt like there was something more you were supposed to be doing, but weren’t sure what?

      • Fog Spinner says:

        Yes. When I wasn’t working before my son was, what I felt, old enough, for me to go back to work doing something. I wouldn’t say I’m content per se. I’m always changing things, but not about myself. So maybe I am content, or very accepting. I think maybe being told as a teen that you are “terminal” changes your perception and you become more accepting of who you are and what you have and less worried about what you *will have* or what you *will be*.

        • Miss Britt says:

          I can’t stress this enough: I do think it’s essential to learn to be happy with where you are RIGHT NOW, even if you decide to work towards something else.

          Acceptance can be a double edged sword, I think, but you seem to make it work for you. I know you think you had to because of your health, but lots of “terminal” people don’t.

          Good for you.

  17. Janelle says:

    I am writing a post right now inspired by this post. The things I would love to if there were no limits:

    Work for a network ala Tina Fey style
    Work for Oprah such as producing shows for her new network
    Work for Ellen producing segments for her show
    Direct country music videos

    But once I got to typing (and thinking) I was reminded that I can want to do these things that I am pretty sure would bring me great happiness, but I would have to get hired. I can’t just show up and say, “I’m all yours for the next six months!”

    So, my question to you, what if what you want to do to make your dreams come true has to deal with other people hiring you? How do you chase one of those lofty dreams of working for Oprah or Elllen when you don’t even know where to start?

    • Miss Britt says:

      Well I don’t know a single thing about that industry so I certainly couldn’t offer career advice, but my generic advice would be to start doing the thing you want to someday be paid by someone else to do. It’s not a magic formula. You don’t wake up one day with the dream job. But once you realize what you want, it’s a lot easier to start taking steps towards that.

  18. Faiqa says:

    Create things. Sleep a lot. Take better care of myself. Go places. I’m simple. Interestingly, I do all of those things, now, I think, to some extent (nix sleep and taking care of myself). The recent difference that has allowed me to experience the happiness is letting go of the ideas that doing things that make me happy have to somehow make other people as happy, elicit some sort of recognition or some type of valuation on my activity. I don’t know if this makes sense, but much of what I do is truly what makes me happy… it’s just that I have allowed other people’s opinions about how what I do isn’t “good enough” to rob myself of feeling my happiness completely. Also, the pills help. haha.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Of all the words I would use to describe you, simple isn’t one of them. That’s interesting to me that you used it.

      And yeah, that’s the thing about not knowing your own voice. You may not event want something differently than what people tell you to, but not knowing which is which robs you of a sense of ownership and.. I don’t… freedom or something.

  19. Mo says:

    Honest to God, I have no idea how to answer the question “What Makes Me Happy?” I have vague notions of things I’d like to do if I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills. I’m the quintessential glass if half empty person—the what-ifs dance in my head constantly and it’s hard for me to get out from under them. I have a good life—a husband I love, a great family, a couple of goofy dogs and some close friends—but I have a hard time letting go of what I NEED to do and thinking about what I WANT to do.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Have you ever tried letting those what-ifs play out in your head? That’s usually how I reassure myself that the worst case scenario isn’t THAT bad.

  20. rachel says:

    Love.
    I can’t think of more to say than how much i love this.
    <3

  21. Terri says:

    I am turning 39 this year-and I keep thinking what is it I am supposed to be doing here on this earth (besides being an awesome Mom and a kick-ass wife)? I love the questions-some things I really do need to think about (especially since I’m the breadwinner in our family). I am also like your husband with the lottery dream-need to figure out what I really want and then just do it-lottery be damned. Love it!

  22. Allyson says:

    I know I am late to the party, but this is something I’ve been struggling with since I was 20. I don’t think I have passion. When I think about what I would do if money were no object, all I come up with is sleep… maybe on a feather bed, or the beach, or relaxing in the pool. But sleep is all I can come up with, nonetheless. I think about doing nothing when my Pete and I play the lottery fantasy game. It’s funny how the nothing changes depending on how much money there is – just enough to pay bills? Sit around playing video games. enough to cover luxuries? Lay about on a boat drinking and watching dolphins in the sunset. Bill Gates money? Go to charity functions and and social events with high society.

    I know I like coloring in the kids coloring books, and I make up goofy songs to soothe my temper, but I think maybe I’m broken. Born without desire, or passion, or dreams. I do, however, seem to be a muse for those around me who DO have dreams and passions.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Trust that I’m not being douchey when I say this:

      Read today’s post.

      Not being “passionate” does not make you any more broken than being passionate makes me.

  23. [...] something new today?  Because making an effort to stretch yourself is a great way to figure out what makes you happy. And because I get a thrill out of watching people step outside their comfort zones and it’s [...]

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