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.
- 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.
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?