When we think about our lives, the first question we ask ourselves is usually: am I happy? In my marriage? In my career? With my children? Too often, we feel pressure for the answer to be ‘yes’. As if moments of dissatisfaction or misery are personal failures, or at least negative forces that must be excised from our life as quickly as possible.
But words can be tricky. It’s important to define about what we mean when we talk about being happy.
There’s the happy that equals smiles and laughter and fun. Eating a pint of ice cream, lounging in bed all day, going shopping, pouring that 3rd glass of wine – all of these things can make us happy. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Let me repeat:
[Tweet “There’s nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, even the occasional (responsible) overindulgence. Pleasure is an important and valuable part of the human experience.”]
And then there’s the second kind of happiness, the kind that’s actually shorthand for ‘fulfilled’. And fulfillment is harder. It takes a lot of work. And much, even most, of that work will not be pleasurable. You won’t feel ‘happy’ while you do it. Catching a red-eye flight to that big business meeting, spending hours crammed into a tiny airplane seat, isn’t fun. Few of us take pleasure in staying up past midnight prepping organic, allergen-free snacks for our child’s classroom trip the next day. Stumbling over and stubbing our toes on our partner’s shoes in the dark, when we’ve specifically asked them to stop leaving them in the bathroom doorway, several times – well, the emotion that stirs up is definitely not ‘joy’.
But, if we take a step back, our perspective shifts. All those little, annoying moments of unhappiness add up. Taken together, they become something entirely different: a successful career, a cared-for child, a loving marriage.
A fulfilled life.
Sometimes, our lives truly are broken and big changes are needed. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our workplace and/or our relationships are genuine sources of pain for us and require a serious recalibration.
But before making any huge, irreversible decisions – quitting a job, filing for divorce, shipping your grimy little preschooler off to a Victorian-style workhouse – ask yourself: which kind of unhappy am I? Is this a short-term unhappiness? Am I confusing frustration with misery?
You don’t have to happy every moment of every day. A lot of life is irritating, difficult and even frightening. But you do deserve to be fulfilled. So let’s give ourselves permission to be unhappy. And then, give yourself permission find fulfillment.