The Problem With Happiness

Jul 20, 2020

A deliciously soapy comedy-drama with a dash of murder, Desperate Housewives is an American TV series beloved by millions of women my age.

The story centers around the lives of four housewives who live on idyllic Wisteria Lane.

Throughout it’s eight season run, our ill-fated housewives face infidelity, arson, murder, and more, and do so all while trying to remain sane.

While the whole show was rather transformative for me, there is one recurring theme for Gabby that I will never forget: her quest for happiness in all the wrong places.

Gabby is a former supermodel who married her handsome husband Carlos for his money only to find that money can’t buy happiness.

Fairly early on in the series, Gabby is in bed with John, the teenage gardener she is having an affair with. She tells John that Carlos gave her everything she ever wanted. “Then why aren’t you happy?” asked John. “Because I wanted all the wrong things,” said Gabby.

While I was never a supermodel, and I certainly didn’t marry for money, I really resonated with Gabby.

Gabby and I both saw a life of luxury and wealth as the source of happiness.

And, we were both terribly, terribly wrong.

•••

The problem with happiness is we aren’t taught what it is, not in any real sense. When we are children we see our parents, siblings, friends, all laughing, smiling, having fun, and we assume that is what happiness is.

And as we grow up, as we go through high school and college, as we move out on our own, the realities of being an adult in our modern society quickly overshadow happiness.

Or — rather — what we perceive to be happiness.

What we don’t realise about those laughs and smiles we see as children is that they are not indicative of happiness: they’re indicative of joy.

Happiness and joy are not the same thing. One can experience a moment of joy and still be profoundly unhappy. One can feel joyful about the fancy new whatever they just purchased while also feeling unhappiness.

Unfortunately for millions of people, we tend to conflate happiness with joy and vice versa. We walk through our life manufacturing joy, and wondering why we’re still fucking miserable.

So before we go any further, I think it’s necessary to examine the difference between joy and happiness. And we’ll do that right after the break.

•••

The dictionary screwed up on this one.

Joy and happiness are two very different things with two very different definitions. Joy is not a synonym for happiness.

Joy is a momentary emotion evoked by experiencing something positive.

Happiness is a state of being in which you feel deep contentment.

Let’s say you find your favourite TV show from childhood on Netflix. That warm and fuzzy feeling in your chest as you rewatch the series isn’t happiness: it’s joy. It’s the joy of experiencing something that made you feel joy as a child. It takes you back to a simpler time, a time which most of us associate with comfort and love.

Many people believe that buying things they like makes them happy, but this isn’t true either. It brings joy.

But depending on the reason for the purchase — and how you use what you purchased — you could become happy.

If you’re joyful because you got a new pair of running shoes and you can start jogging, you’re feeling joy from the idea of becoming what you perceive to be a “better” person, whether that’s healthier, thinner, more disciplined, whatever.

No matter how fantastic the shoes are, it’s not about the shoes. It’s about the future you the shoes represent.

Being healthier, thinner, more disciplined, won’t make you happy in and of itself. Many people believe that if they just “fix” that one thing, they will be happy. Often, they discover they’re just as miserable as before.

But, if you take the time to sit with your emotions, and you let yourself see how far you’ve come, you will be proud of yourself and more confident, and that does help you create happiness.

Happiness can’t come about from something as simple and trivial as an old TV show, or just from buying a new pair of shoes. Happiness — true happiness — comes from within, and can only come from within.

Happiness comes when you are at peace with yourself.

Happiness happens when you like who you are and are accepting of who you are.

For when you like yourself and are accepting of yourself, there’s nothing you can’t do. You won’t shy away from standing in your truth. You won’t hold yourself back. You will find a way to do what you were put on this Earth to do.

You will no longer allow yourself to live a life that doesn’t light you up; a life that isn’t filled with joy.

Joy and happiness go hand in hand. When you are happy and you like who you are, it is easier — almost automatic — to manufacture joy throughout the day. When you’re unhappy (IE: discontented with who you are) it’s much harder to see joy let alone manufacture it. It’s harder to feel joyful on a regular basis.

But, at the same time, manufacturing joy, allowing yourself the space to feel joy will open you up to the possibility of happiness. Just because joy is a fleeting emotion doesn’t diminish its value nor its impact on your mental and spiritual wellness.

•••

How do you become happy?

I wish I had a simple answer for you. I wish I could give you a formula and tell you if you just mix together these 5 things and drink the potion, you’ll magically be happy.

But I can’t. There is no potion.

Happiness requires work, and the work…is dirty.

It requires looking back through your memories and getting in the muck. You have to dig around in your soul, and you have to get comfortable sitting alone with nothing but your thoughts.

The journey begins when you decide to stop living your life on autopilot. It begins when you decide to stop being the person that society said you have to be.

When you decide that you will become who you were meant to be — and not who you were conditioned to be — you will be miles ahead of everyone else.

From the time I started happiness work, it took me a good two years to feel genuinely happy.

Doing the work was the hardest period of my life, but now that I’m on the other side of the muck, I can honestly tell you it was worth it.

Does this mean I never get sad? No, of course not. Sadness is an emotion and I feel it just like everyone else. But sadness is not the opposite of happiness. It is possible to feel both.

I still feel a range of emotions. I still get anxious about some things. And I still become fearful of other things.

But I no longer feel ruled by my emotions. I know that if I were to die today, I would be content with the woman I turned into, and that’s really as much as any of us can ask for.

•••

So how do you begin happiness work?

What do you do to become happy? What step do you take, and how do you get started digging through the muck? And while you’re digging, what are you looking for?

That’s our topic for the next episode.

In the meantime, get out and manufacture joy. Take a walk in nature. Put on your favourite song. Drink a really fantastic cup of tea. Hug your favourite person.

Subscribe to this show in your favourite podcast player so you get notified whenever we have a new episode.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.