Our culture is a bit happiness obsessed. Much like beautiful women are stood next to sports cars to increase the car’s appeal the idea of happiness seems to be thrown into every imaginable product from shoes to containers to Coca Cola.
(Coke’s slogan from 2011 was “Open Happiness”. The next time you go shopping look for some version of the word ‘happy’. You’ll be amazed at how frequently you see it.)
While the promises of advertising messages may ring a little false- buying a consumer good really won’t have that much impact on your well being- achieving some form of happiness is what most of us are looking for in modern society.
If you remember Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from Psych 101 it makes sense. Our fundamental survival needs for things like food, water, and shelter are fairly assured. It’s that upper part of the pyramid that includes our needs for love, esteem, and self-actualization that we’re trying to meet.
So is happiness really what the photo with this article suggests? Standing in a field of flowers with blue skies every day of the year?
I think not. I think it’s richer than that.
A creative writing professor I had once asserted, “Only conflict is interesting.” Conversely, a story about everything going perfectly would actually be dull to read.
So it is with our lives too. An idyllic life is not one in which our boat never gets rocked. It’s the ups and downs that make life interesting and that help us to grow.
I love the concept that Russ Harris proposes in his book, The Happiness Trap. He says that what we are actually after in our search for happiness is a life that is guided by our values. When we connect to those values we are able to endure the full spectrum of emotions that go along with working toward a value based goal.
For example, many of my clients hold the value of wanting to do work that falls in line with their strengths and interests. As they work toward this goal there will be moments of joy and triumph. And yes, there will also be moments of discouragement and defeat.
However, when a goal is in alignment with our ideals we can sit in those unhappy moments that inevitably come up and say, “Y’know what? I feel like crap right now, but achieving this is so important to me that I won’t give up.”
That’s where a vibrant life lies. Not in blue skies every day, but in creating connections or careers or contributions to the world that we care about. It means having good days and bad days and a thrilling story to tell that is all your own.