The Long Post About Happiness

October 11, 2013

Since Patricio and I were married three years ago, one of our goals has been to own a house. And a car. And to have a job with benefits. And many, many, many other things. At times it has felt like our happiness has been on hold, pending until we achieve our dreams. I would spend so much time thinking about how much better our lives would be if we had one or all of these desired things, that I started to resent the seemingly meagre substitutes that we did have (run down apartment, public transit, part-time job).

And then last year, around the time that moving to a new apartment seemed like the latest solution for happiness, I began to ask myself: Would I really be happier if I had a different apartment? Or if I had a house? If I had a car? If I had truckloads of money?

I don't think that I come across as a noticeably negative person, but for a long time I was failing to recognize the good things in my life, and I was making myself miserable. I started to make an internal change to make me the source of my own happiness, rather than exclusively relying on material things, people or achievements.
I can't claim that these points will make everyone in the world happy, but I believe that there is truth in each point that anyone can apply to their lives.

You Can Be Happy Right Now
I went through a phase where I didn't even want to hear or know about my peers who were buying houses, having kids, driving around in cars, vacationing at exotic locations, making twice my income and dressing 500% better than me. Thanks to social networking, keeping up with the Joneses has never been so rough (I didn't even know how much my life sucked until you posted your vacation photos from Europe).

By spending so much energy wanting what others had, it made me depressed about what I did have. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night as I stressed over how I could save enough money while supporting my husband in school to afford [insert desired object here], instead of appreciating the wonderful fact that I was sharing a bed with my sweetheart. If I couldn't be happy then, who's to say that I would be any happier with more?
Being happy right now does not mean passively sitting, smiling contentedly at the growing pile of dirty dishes in the sink, or feeling warm and fluffy inside as you look at the balance of your waning chequing account, or that you never try to achieve your aspirations because you are just so darn happy with things just as they are. It also doesn't mean being an even consistency of feel-good all the time. It means learning to have a positive outlook on your own life, and knowing that that outlook will improve your life more than pursuing happiness through a checklist of wants/needs. It means finding (it might take some looking at times) the joy in your life, and appreciating what you do have.

This doesn't mean that you have to love the lame job that you took out of college because you couldn't find anything else, or that you have to stay in a destructive relationship. There are still things in life that you will have to change to increase your chances for happiness, and you are the only one responsible for that change.

You Are The Only One Holding Yourself Back
I remember my mother always used to talk about making goals when I was growing up. "What are your goals in life? What's your plan?" To this day, I still think about my goals often. Some goals come and go, just a fleeting fancy, others hang in uncertainty, some are in progress or have remained unattended for years, and others I've achieved and am still reaping the benefits.
I want to learn how to knit. I want to read my scriptures every day. I want to read more in general. I want to volunteer at the local community center. I want to write a children's book. I want to have children. I want to enjoy cooking. I want to develop the patience to paint. I want to stop procrastinating. I want to stop being so judgemental. I want to be a better friend.

There's a commonality in all of these goals: I'm the only one holding me back from achieving them, and I'm only limiting myself if I make excuses, blame others, or procrastinate in the process. If at the end of the day I am unhappy because I haven't achieved these personal goals, I only have myself to blame.

We could all be a lot happier if we accepted responsibility for fulfilling our own dreams. But we also need to make sure our dreams are realistic, which brings me to my next point...

Manage Your Expectations

One of my favourite scenes in the movie 500 Days of Summer is the Expectations vs. Reality sequence (see image above). I think that anyone can relate to this scene, whether it involves a relationship, a career, a job expectation, a haircut, or a conversation. We've all been let down by our own high expectations.

People build expectations every day in their minds, and are motivated/demotivated by them. It also gets a bit more complicated when other's project their expectations onto someone else (I.e. parents expecting careers or lifestyle choices from offspring). Expectations can be both positive or negative. It's when people develop unrealistic expectations that they feel disappointed with their reality (i.e. Finding the "Perfect" Partner or Having the "Perfect" Life). 
By managing expectations appropriately you can still retain a motivating force, but also lessen the inevitable disappointments that you'll face in this life. Managing expectations also involves learning to accept that things won't always go as planned even though your expectations were realistic. There will still be failure and heartache, but there will also be joy and success.

I know that these three happiness guidelines won't safeguard me, or anyone, from feeling let down at times. Sometimes I will still hold myself back from achieving personal goals. Sometimes I will still feel that sting of envy when I see what others have. There will always be ups and downs, broken dreams, and discouragement. But if I keep returning to an attitude of positivity and hope, happiness won't be on hold for very long.

Have a great weekend - and if you're Canadian like me, a Happy Thanksgiving. There's no better time than now to be thankful for all we have.


  1. Robin, this is such a great post. I, too, struggle to find happiness in everyday life, always looking toward my future goals and forgetting to embrace joy in the present. It's easy to get caught up in everything we want and think we need to be happy, but it's so rewarding and wonderful to step back and appreciate where we are and what we have now. Those little blessings add up :) Thanks for such a great reminder, and great advice!

    1. Happiness seems like such a simple concept- just be happy! - but it's a skill that requires constant practice, and has such a unique path for each individual. I will hopefully remember to take my own advice.

      Thank you for taking the time to read!

  2. I think your gratitude post is a great follow up to this one. It's difficult to be happy when we're not already thankful for what we have. And when we have gratitude, we recognize and receive more of the blessings.

    I am least happiest when I am selfish and comparing myself to others.

    Love you, Robin!

    1. You're absolutely right, Jane! It's so important to appreciate the things we have.

      Love you too!

  3. I wish I could put a little love sticker like Facebook on your blog. Love your comments.