Bonus Episode: Why You Keep Failing to be Happy
This past year I kicked off a local mastermind group in Maine. The participants gelled very quickly and within an hour they were being very open about their struggles, the current state of their business and where they would like to be making more progress.
Some common themes quickly cropped up and one in particular was the need to constantly work on creating the conditions for a great life, as well as what is required to maintain those conditions.
One of the participants blurted out, “Happiness is not for the faint of heart!” We all chucked but it was laughter with the ring of truth.
And she is right. Happiness is not something you work for, achieve, and then you can forever stare at your happiness diploma on the wall.
Do You Feel Like a Happiness Failure?
Happiness is not an achievement at all and I think that’s where many of us go wrong. Happiness is a state of being – it can come and go based on the choices we make and our current level of awareness.
If you feel like your failing because there are times when you are clearly not happy, you are not alone. In fact, floating in and out of happiness is part of the human experience but you can increase the amount of happiness you experience overall.
This is something that hit me over the head recently when I noticed that things that once rolled right off my shoulders started to bother me. My patience was wearing thin and I started to feel unappreciated.
These are red flags for me!
This is an early warning (or not so early warning) system for me that I am exhausted and need to unplug from work, obligations, or anything that doesn’t serve my greater good.
And I do need to unplug.
Despite all my recommendations otherwise to my friends, family and clients, I haven’t had a day off in months.
If I only put in a few hours of work on a Saturday or Sunday I consider that a “day off.”
I know what I’m afraid of: that everything will unravel if I take time for myself.
I pride myself on excellence; it’s one of my core values and I’m afraid I will have to sacrifice excellence if take time for myself and fill it with non-purposeful fluff.
Also, I have a sense that my business is on a precipice. It’s nearing that tipping point where at any time I can suddenly grow and then (yes then!) I can hire someone to take some of this load off my shoulders.
The problem is I know this way of thinking is a trap. I’m more likely to see my business to the next level if I am well rested and enjoying my work.
You and I will not experience happiness if we are running ourselves into the ground. If we are pushing ourselves too hard we may actually be preventing the very experience we are trying to obtain: happiness.
Happiness is not for the Faint of Heart
I have yet to meet a happy person who claims that happiness comes naturally to them. They all say it requires choosing to focus on what’s good in their life (gratitude) and choosing to focus on where they can make a difference (personal power).
Achieving new levels of happiness requires mindfulness and practice. Like any practice, the more you put into it, the more consistent you are, the better the results you get.
It may be your self-care, honoring your values, finding work that is meaningful to you or taking on new habits and practices that support you growth. Likely, it’s a combination of things.
Sometimes for me finding happiness starts with identifying what’s stealing my happiness.
My dissatisfaction, my annoyances, my body’s aches and pains – these are clues left behind by happiness. If I can uncover what is causing these symptoms I can do something about it.
Side note: I did find myself becoming annoyed and losing patience with people. It’s very common to want other people to change so we can be happy once again. I did that at first and all it did was make me even more upset because it’s a position of no power.
It was in a conversation with a friend that I blurted out, “I think I’m taking everything too personally. I think I’m making their behavior mean that they don’t appreciate the work I’m doing and they don’t respect me.”
Talking with my friend helped me to put it in perspective and I was suddenly aware of how tired I was. I knew I had been pushing myself too hard and I didn’t need other people to change, I needed to take better care of myself.
I’m starting to put that into practice and I know it won’t take long for me to recover.
Because, you know what I’ve found to be true in the past?
After finding the cause of my suffering, while I’m working to put everything back to right, happiness usually joins me to complete the task together.
Happiness isn’t the reward at the end of a goal. Happiness is the reward for working toward a goal.
Being Happy is also a Red Flag for Me
Happiness is not a red flag that my life is perfect. It’s a red flag that I’m paying attention: I’m taking care of myself, taking care of those around me, and doing work that brings meaning to my life.
I don’t need to be happy all the time. That unrealistic and if you’re honest you’ll admit you don’t even want to be happy all the time.
If you wanted to be happy all the time then why do watch movies that make you cry or you know will make you angry, or scared, or uncertain?
We crave the whole human experience so know that when you’re not happy it’s just more information for you to identify your own red flags for what makes you unhappy.
Rather than to shoot for being happy all the time, which is impossible, shoot to achieve an overall level of happiness that supports the life you want to live.
Which brings me to my next point…
The Connection Between Happiness and Leadership
The field of Positive Psychology has exploded with research linking success with happiness. And it’s not what you might think.
The research doesn’t show that success brings happiness. It shows that people with happiness practices are more likely to be successful. They are healthier, more productive, have closer relationships and feel that the work they do makes a difference which motivates them even when facing obstacles.
And let’s face it, would you prefer to follow someone who overall is happy or someone who overall is trying to make it through each day?
Bottom line, you don’t have to achieve happiness in this moment. The key is to pay attention to what brings you a sense of fulfillment, well-being and joy, and what gets in the way of those feelings. Pay attention to where and how you can make a difference and do work that is meaningful to you.
What makes you happy? Write it in the comments below!