Unhappy Being Happy

Sometimes I fear happiness.

I can’t be the only one, right?

Try this thought experiment. Imagine tomorrow you will be a thousand times happier than you are today. Does something about that sound frightening? My first reaction is that anyone that happy would become unhinged.

Sometimes I skip meals, stay up until 3 am for no reason, or forego a social event that I know will be fun. These things are all trivial, but trivial things are vital to my happiness.

Why do I do these things to myself? Do I worry that, if I “achieve” happiness, I still won’t feel fulfilled? Do I feel bound by sense of duty to be somber? Can I not have too much fun since that’s not what busy adults do?

Disclaimer: some people literally cannot be happy (or fulfilled, or at peace, or well, etc). Perhaps they suffer from chronic depression. Perhaps their spouse has just died. If that’s your case, then ignore this post.

I believe part of the reason we snub happiness is that our culture associates sadness with nobility and humanity, and happiness with naiveté.

We work eight hour days – and we think of ourselves as slaves, because everyone hates work, right? That’s “normal.” People whose lives seem too perfect? We call them goody two shoes. People whose lives are in shambles? That’s “real.”

Think about literary archetypes and our most beloved fictional characters. Unhappy figures are intelligent, complex, mysterious, and insightful. The happy ones are fools characterized as goofy, silly, or giddy, all words connoting a lack of control.

I agree with Ayn Rand’s observations: “Happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to enjoy. Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values, and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions…” Ayn Rand is part of my motley crew, if you didn’t know.

So we have to work for it. What else do we need? Barring professional psychological help, we need a safe, comfortable, and controlled environment. Can you really lose yourself in a good book if you’re anxiously awaiting a text from your crush? Not really. Turn the phone off. Can you be happy and worried what others think of you? No. Figure out how to stop worrying. Make a plan, if you want (Asana can help you make a plan – I love Asana, because I love planning).

Sometimes my posts have a call to action. I’ve decided those are dumb, at least coming from me, in this medium. You might think this post is the most asinine thing you’ve ever read, and no one likes being told what to do, anyway, so my call to action today is for myself. Tonight I am going to play a video game I just bought. And tomorrow I’m going to read a good book instead of checking more items off my to-do list on Asana.

17 thoughts on “Unhappy Being Happy

  1. I think there is an unwritten rule somewhere that to being happy all the time is selfish. That we need to be afraid/scared/mad/depressed in order to be human. To understand others. We are conditioned to think that happiness is a REWARD instead of a natural part of life. Unfortunately, until we break that glass ceiling we created for ourselves, we will always be afraid to be what we want to be. Happy. Great blog.

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    • That’s an excellent point! That we think of happiness as a reward rather than a natural part of life. I am definitely going to keep an eye out for that. Thanks so much for pointing that out.

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  2. I think we also tend to have an unrealistic idea of what happiness is. We think happiness is constant mad bliss, instead of overall peaceful contentment. I’m happy being content with my quiet life. But then, my idea of a fun night is winding yarn round a stick or two while my dearly beloved reads aloud.

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  3. Sounds like a plan. 🙂 As for me, I aspire nothing BUT to be happy. That’s why I also am. In the rare moments when I don’t feel as happy as I’d wish, I’m pretty sure the end of the world is nigh. When that doesn’t happen, I just go back to being happy, be it consciously or not. I have often felt that it’s something that can totally enrage other people for some reason. Upon moving to Tuscany to live with my love, my own sister asked me “Why you?”

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  4. Happiness is a choice Tom, some days its hard to find but if we choose to be thankful for what we have, we will always find someone less happier than ourselves. Failing that, help someone less happy and I bet you feel better after. I try not to slip into the condition…..if I just do this, or have that I will be happy. I wake, I meditate and give thanks that I am here for another day. That makes me happy. It is a rollercoaster and thats a cruel fact of life. A sign that we are still here.

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  5. I accepted a while ago that happiness is both fleeting and transitory. I will always be happy again, even if I’m not now; I will always be unhappy again, even if I’m now happy. And once I become happy or unhappy, those states of being will always be transitioning into another state of mind. It’s key, I think, not to seek a state of mind. But to instead use it productively. And feel it out. Never fight it. Because it will always change, no matter what I do.

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    • I see what you mean. I feel “at ease” in a sense, like there’s a base happiness from which I never stray too far – but I know that could all change. “Live in the moment,” as they say.

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  6. When I was little, I worried when my mother didn’t seem happy. I would ask her why she wasn’t smiling and she would snap at me, saying she’d be an idiot to be smiling all the time. To this day, I find that I am happy when the people I love are happy.

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