About a month ago, my friend Lisa and I were riding home from the gym with her husband JB, discussing how great we felt after working out. The conversation quickly turned to all of the benefits of losing weight and being healthier, how it was obviously worth giving up crappy food and time in front of the TV. I almost allowed myself to feel smug, except that I was struck by the difference between what we each professed to know and how I actually live my life.
“We all know what we need to do to be healthy – almost everyone does,” I said. “So why don’t we just do it? Why do so many of us struggle to do the things that we know will make us happier?”
Despite knowing better, we don’t do what we need to do.
You know we don’t.
We don’t spend enough time with our loved ones or eat the foods that will keep us healthy. We don’t give up bad habits or break up with bad friends. We don’t turn off the TV or take the time to make a household budget. We don’t take that trip we’ve been talking about for years or find a way to quit the job we know is killing us.
Most of us know, deep down in our hearts, exactly what we need to do right now to be happier.
It may still be a whisper, but our inner voices are telling us.
We’re just pretending not to hear.
Don’t we want to be happy?
I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t instinctively crave happiness.
We write it into our legal documents, buy books in hopes of finding it, and wish it fervently for our children. We go to great lengths to achieve it, sometimes searching in dangerous places for even the briefest encounter with happiness.
Our self-sabotage and failure to act is about a lot more than not wanting to be happy.
For most of us, the answer is complicated. There are layers of belief systems and insecurities holding us down.
Maybe we are afraid to be bad people.
Being happier than you are today usually requires change, changes that demand time or even money. We’re already using that time and money elsewhere. Isn’t it selfish to reroute those resources for the frivolous pursuit of happiness?
Maybe we’re afraid of inconveniencing our spouses, short-changing our children, or disappointing our parents. Maybe doing things differently than the way people around us are doing them says that we think we are better than our peers.
And who are you to obsess about happiness anyway?
Shouldn’t you focus on gratitude and giving back instead?
The fear of being selfish, bad, irresponsible, lazy or any number of other negative things has stopped me from acknowledging my own inner voice countless times.
Wanting to write for a living instead of work in sales makes me lazy.
Traveling for a year makes me irresponsible.
Thinking I could make a living as a freelancewhen so many people fail makes me egotistical.
Maybe we are afraid to fail.
Jared is taking a huge leap of faith right now in his career. He’s investing time and money into learning a brand new skill set, hoping the payoff will be a work life he actually enjoys. But he is scared. He is scared that taking this time off to learn won’t work. He is afraid of not being able to earn enough money.
He spent ten years installing cable because he was afraid of failing if he tried something else.
Every week, I set a goal for sending out a certain number of queries to magazines. Every week, I procrastinate sending out those queries. I’m afraid I’ll send them and get no response. I’m afraid I’m wasting my time. I’d rather watch sitcoms on Hulu and know I’m being unproductive than spend my time trying and then fail.
I wonder how many of us don’t make small changes because we think they won’t matter, and we worry we will look stupid for even trying.
Maybe change is too hard to do alone.
Getting up early to go to the gym is hard. It is not easy to battle fatigue in the morning or to go to bed earlier when you’ve finally gotten a few hours alone with your husband.
Saving up for a trip is hard. There’s always something else you could be doing with that money. It is not easy to go without new clothes or to tell your friends no when they invite you out for drinks.
It’s hard to choose a smaller home when everyone you know is upgrading.
It’s hard to drive a car that is ugly and loud, even if you don’t have a car payment.
It’s hard to pass up chocolate cake for dessert.
It’s hard to email a stranger and ask them to pay you for work that you love.
It’s hard to tell your kids they can’t have the same toys their friends have.
It’s hard to tell your parents that you don’t want to live near them.
It’s hard to practice a skill or work towards a goal when the rest of the world seems to be tuning into the next episode of American Idol.
Change is hard.
It’s not impossible, no. But there’s no denying that change is uncomfortable and that discomfort sucks, at least temporarily. Sure, it’d be great if we all had massive amounts of self discipline and could push through discomfort on our own, secure in the knowledge that the results would be worth it.
But sometimes we forget it will be worth it.
Sometimes we don’t know if we will fail, and we forget that simply trying will have made us better.
Maybe that’s when we need to ask for help, to seek support from like-minded people who will remind us that the chance to be happier long-term is facing short-term pain and sacrifice.
And maybe we need to be patient with ourselves, while committing to keep doing the best that we can.