Is our pursuit of happiness making us unhappy?
Happiness: We love it. Sometimes we ache for it. And we try to hold onto it no matter how much it costs.
Is our pursuit of happiness making us unhappy?
Addicted to happy
Our obsession with happiness might be a borderline addiction.
Is it possible to be addicted to something that is good for us? Of course it is: a little wine is good for us but if you drink a bottle a day, you will probably wreck your live and your life. When used as directed, prescription pain medication is helpful and healing. Overused and abused, it can become an addiction and destroy our lives. Exercise is phenomenal when we do it every day, but when we exercise for hours on end, our bodies wear out and we will face the pain of over exercise.
Our pursuit of happiness be a collective happ-addiction.
Is it possible to be addicted to happiness?
In a way, all addiction is an addiction to happiness or more correctly, an addiction to not feeling (anything). Some people want to numb out, so we use drugs or we drink. Others numb out with food or TV or sex. The pursuit of happiness may be, for some of us, a socially acceptable form of numbing out.
For most of us, being happy is an obsession that drives us. And this drive may be making us unhappy. Just search for “Happiness hacks” and you will get more tweaks than you can handle. Trying to keep up with it all may even give you a frowny face.
Happiness hacking articles will give you recommendations to tweak your way to a happier you. Advice like:
- Drink the right kind of coffee
- Wake up at the right time of day
- Sleep the right amount
- Don’t look at your phone too much
- Eat the right stuff
- Exercise the right way and the right amount
- Track your life using phone apps
- Keep track of your gratitude
- Pursue your passions
These things are not bad, but taken as a whole, we are organizing our lives around something elusive. Are we tweaking our way toward an unreachable high?
Being unhappy is not a fun expereince. I live with depression and it can be a terrible experience when you have to face an unpredictably dark, unrelenting season. You would give anything to feel less pain, you wonder if you will ever feel happy again. Most times, the seasons lift and you feel more normal and some days even happy.
This is reality, but is it possible (or healthy) to be happy all of the time? Or to feel more, and more, and more happiness? Our expectations may be making us unhappy.
Let it sink in: our expectations to feel happy all of the time may be the thing that is making us unhappy.
Look at the list of bullet items again. If you invest your time trying to implement that list, you may feel more anxious because it takes a lot of work to try and tweak away your out of bad moods. It is unrealistic and impossible to feel happy all of the time.
Tweak away, but you may end up even less happy. The good news is that a little unhappiness may not be a bad thing.
Lessons from unhappiness
Most of us learn more from our unhappy times than all of the happy days we can throw together. It is our unhappiness that drives us to discover, to change and to learn. If we feel happy, it is easy to become less conscious, less in the moment.
Unhappiness may be one of our best teachers and we spend a lot of time and money avoiding it. I am not suggesting that you should try to feel unhappy all of the time, that would be unpleasant. But when you feel unhappy, just feel it. You don’t have to sink into a depression, but you can be present in your unhappiness.
Here are a few lessons I am learning about unhappiness:
- You and I will be unhappy from time to time. It’s normal.
- Unhappiness may not have a root, it is a normal condition and it will pass. You don’t have to change yourself or your life. Just accept it and live your life.
- Unhappiness is different than clinical depression. The short answer is that unhappiness is temporary whereas clinical depression is more lasting, despite our best efforts to change it. Unhappiness is sense of dissatisfaction, a passing mood of less-than-preferred-emotions. Clinical depression is a constellation of symptoms that include isolation, suicidal thoughts, negative and cycling ideas about your life, loss/increase of weight and the like.
- You cannot medicate your way to happiness, just like you cannot drink (or eat, or sex) your way to an always happy life. Happiness is an inside job, pills and potions always backfire. But if you need prescribed medication, that is healthy because it is adjusted to your specific needs.
- Lasting unhappiness can point to life changes you want to make. Lifestyle change may be in order. I always feel a bout of unhappiness after I eat junk food. I don’t know why, but if I eat a bag of chips, I will have an unhappy hangover for the next few days. I am slowly learning that I need to avoid processed junk foods like potato chips. It is a hard habit to break, but I feel better when I limit the junk.
- It is the small things, done repeatedly, that make the biggest difference. Obsession will make you, well, obsessed. Small acts of kindness will make you more happy. But don’t worry about it. Go for the small and repeatable.
- Hard times, hard things are a reality. Embracing things that suck is difficult. You and I can spend a lot of time trying to avoid the hard stuff. But the hard stuff is where we learn more about ourselves. These experiences create lasting and real moods.
- Happiness is not a place, it’s a mood. You may feel more happy doing chores at home than you will on holidays. It pretty much depends on your approach.
- Sometimes you won’t feel happy no matter what you do. This is similar to #1. Trust me, it will pass. If you wonder whether you are depressed, see your doctor.
- Most other people only SEEM more happy than you are. And this can drive you and I nuts.
- You are actually at your happiest by being slightly more happy than unhappy.
You may not feel happy about what I have written and that is a good thing. What is your experience with unhappiness? I get that it is unpleasant, but what has it taught you? Happy or unhappy, will you join me in the comments?
Keep it Real
Photo by Stephan Kiessling