Why aren’t we happy, even when we have a million social activities, a great job, and lots of nice stuff?
We work hard all week and look forward to the weekend, but then work just as hard at having fun (in order to forget the stress of our week and get as much as possible out of our free time). Often we’re more tired at the end of the weekend than we are at the end of the work week!
What’s the deal with our furiously paced and hectic lives?
As a generation, we’ve got more freedoms and opportunity, more equality, and more options for everything than ever before (ordering anything online and getting it tomorrow, getting food delivered at home at midnight, etc.)
Yet, we are also more on display than ever before and more competitive (by necessity) than ever before (with everything in the world being find-able on the internet, we are competing with everyone in the world; and anything we can find out or learn to do is something everyone else can find out or learn to do just as easily!)
Thanks to social media and entertainment trends like reality television, we live in a world where all of us can see what almost everyone else is doing (or pretending to do) at every moment. We are constantly bombarded by images of successful or beautiful or happy people sharing only the best images or best moments (often artificially created for appearance sake) from their lives and keeping their embarrassing, difficult moments and failures to themselves.
We respond in kind, sharing only our most exciting and fabulous looking photos and making our everyday lives seem like something out of a magazine or movie. After all, if everyone else is having such beautiful, amazing lives and are so successful and happy, we can’t seem as if we aren’t, right?
We begin to care more about how we look doing things, or how people will perceive the things we do and the choices we make, than we do anything for its own sake. We forget to think about what we truly want and what will make us happy and instead talk ourselves out of (and into) the things that are more likely to be applauded and accepted by others. We work hard to get people to respect us and give us compliments or tell us how great we are or how jealous they are of our career/vacation/gorgeous boyfriend; but in fact, those compliments feel meaningless when we get them because they aren’t compliments on who we are. They’re compliments on how we’ve crafted our life to appear or how well we’ve sold ourselves in public.
This obsession with appearances and keeping up with everyone else around us leads us to constant dissatisfaction. We watch image after image and read post after post that put us into jealousy and panic mode all at once. So and so bought a new house? Got a promotion? Got engaged AND lost 15 pounds? Not fair, I want all of these things and don’t have them yet! I’ve got to get going…!
We look at these images and absorb these messages and think: Our hair isn’t shiny enough. Our thighs and stomach aren’t in good enough shape to be caught on camera in a swimsuit. Our clothes aren’t cute or hip enough. Our car is too old; we’ve got to get the newest model like everyone else in our position. We need a manicure/spray tan/new outfit/botox for those forehead wrinkles… before we get caught in anymore event photos with that cute young co-worker. We never ever say to ourselves ‘I’m good enough just the way I am, even if I don’t have exactly what this or that friend has. I’m happy with what I have and what I look like and where I’m at.’
We are never fulfilled, because we are constantly making an effort to do more and be better. We forget to appreciate the moment and to love ourselves.
Not loving ourselves leads to our not feeling good enough for others to love us, which in turn leads to dating the wrong people and feeling insecure and unsure about whether they like us or care about us or love us enough. We refuse to admit that it’s our own job to fix the emptiness inside of us and that fixing ourselves first is the only way to be ready to fully love someone else.
It’s time to stop the insanity. Get back to the basics. Use common sense. Look inward and focus on things that truly matter: friendships, family, health, our passions,… love.
Imagine if, instead of spending an hour or two each day reading about everyone else’s fabulous lives and feeling inadequate, or participating in threads about unimportant things, we instead spent those hours learning a language, writing in a journal, reading a book, getting outdoors for some physical activity, or meditating?
What if we wanted less, and assessed what it is that truly makes us happy (hint: it’s probably not getting a new car because everyone else has one)? What if we stopped there and asked ourselves the following questions:
- Do we have a good relationship with our family?
- Do we have a friend or partner who we love? Do we spend enough time with them and let them know how much they mean to us?
- Do we feel good physically? If not, how can we fix that? More exercise? Better eating habits?
- Are we drinking too much? Sleeping too little? Working too many hours?
Can we force ourselves to stop, be grateful, and not to desire so much stuff that we don’t need? To not let vanity decide for us what will make us happy?
We absolutely can.
Let go of the meaningless. Keep the meaningful closer. Make efforts not to be swayed or distracted by jealousy or feelings of inadequacy, but instead look inward, practice mindfulness and self-love, and simplify your life. Focus on relationships and health and happiness instead of material possessions, professional or social ‘status,’ and income.
Take a few minutes and think about what makes you the happiest. Who do you feel your best around? What in your life is making you the most unhappy?
Now focus on these things and make a plan. Do the things that make you happy and see the people that make you happy more often. Get rid of (or make a plan to get rid of over time if it’s something that is difficult) what makes you unhappy. Forget about whether changing jobs/careers/boyfriends will make you look less successful or popular.
Note from author: I quit a 14 year career just under two years ago in order to travel and to train myself in new skills that would allow me to get away from a career that was affecting my health, relationships, and happiness and to move towards a new way of life.
I haven’t bought new clothes in a year. I haven’t eaten at fancy restaurants. I haven’t been able to afford manicures or pedicures or spa treatments. I can’t brag about my promotion or how much money I’m making or the fabulous luxury trips I’m taking.
But I’m the happiest I’ve been in over 10 years.
Featured photo credit: youth.sg via youth.sg