The pursuit of Happiness.
Also known as the never-ending Guilt Trip.
I know what I need to be happy. I just have to get it.
The next job, the next marriage, the next house, the next pair of jeans.
Next, next, next, next.
I feel anxious already. Can I accomplish all this? Will I ever be a great person, parent, and partner?
“To be happy” is a phrase loaded with interpretation, hope, and doubt.
What We Want Is What We Get. (sort of)
It’s all we really want. To be happy.
We hunt down happiness by picking perfect partners and stalking careers that not only pay the bills but that are supposed to fulfill us. We dream of travel and want to live a spiritual life. We want to be active, be educated, be sophisticated.
We want to be exhilarated by our fantastic freaking life.
And, yeah, a part of us wants people to see our photo-feed and be a teensy, tiny bit jealous.
So we get ahead at work and never use up our vacation days. Our kids get shuttled from one activity to the next, even if they don’t want to go. We wear ourselves out chasing happiness.
How does this version of happiness feel?
Makes me feel nauseous… and exhausted.
The Guilt Trip that is Happiness is a lot of baggage to carry. All those goals felt heavy on my shoulders and hard in the pit of my stomach.
Are they even doable?
Maybe there’s a simpler, more achievable goal.
Maybe we’re a generation that is spending so much time analyzing the holy grail that is “happiness,” that we inadvertently rob ourselves of it. We overthink it right to death. We wonder about it too much.
Pretty ironic, don’t ya think?
It seems possible that we might be putting a little too much pressure on those two syllables….
Let’s forget Happy for now.
Instead of Happy, let’s talk Content.
Sounds boring, but it’s not.
Let’s talk about how to find the soul-satisfying, happy kind of Content. The feeling of a job well done, a gift freely given, a day well-lived.
Here are Ashley and Blair’s 7 favorite, time-tested tips for living a content (aka happy) life:
Take a moment to stop the Fight-or-Flight impulse. Do it. We’ll wait. How? Use your breath. The secret is to breathe out longer than you breathe in. Breathe in for 3 seconds, pause for 1 second, breath out for 5 seconds. Try it a few times. Do what feels natural. This neat little trick activates your parasympathetic nervous system and is nature’s answer to Valium. Ashley uses it to fall asleep almost every night. Sink into that feeling of contentment and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.
Admit you cannot be everything to everyone. You will always be a disappointment to someone. Your kids if you’re spending all your time volunteering as the Perfect-PTA mom. Your partner if you’re spending hours making little Bento boxes for the kid who’s cool with a sandwich. Friends if you put your family first. You if you always put everyone else first. Set yourself free by admitting you can’t be everything to everyone. Say it aloud right now, “I cannot be everything to everyone.” Make the Bento box with your kid if they’re interested, and a sandwich if they’re not. Whatever it takes to lessen the guilt trip that is your to-do list.
I cannot be everything to everyone. #contentment
Click to Tweet
Stop comparing yourself to other people. That’s a dangerous game! And in this social media crazy culture of ours, it’s the easiest trap to fall into. “She hasn’t aged a day!” As you count your gray hairs. “They’re on another vacation??!” As you can only vaguely recall the weekend getaway you took 11 months ago. The bottom line is, who cares? Don’t worry about the glitzy, filtered lives of others. It’s all a digital illusion anyway (seriously, check this out). Don’t buy into trying to keep up with the Joneses. You rule, just the way you are.
Close your mind to open it. It’s hard to be happy if you spend too much time wondering whether or not you are. Stop the wheels upstairs from working overtime and let yourself just be. Finding pleasure in a mind that is at peace is happiness at its very best. Acknowledge your flaws, your setbacks, and your shortcomings for a moment if you must, and then give yourself permission to stop thinking about how it could all be better. What’s better than full acceptance of yourself and your life exactly as is? Not much.
Take time to do nothing. Yes, you read that right. Not a single thing!! One of my biggest sources of cultural envy is that as Americans we pride ourselves on being busy. We pack our schedules and it makes us feel productive and important. That is, until it makes us feel stressed, depleted and frustrated. Turns out, being busy makes us less productive. Don’t forget to get in touch with your inner italian and remember “Il bel far niente,” the beauty of doing nothing. Your relaxed and rested mind will thank you in spades, and I’m sure whatever you chose not to do will get done in due course. Life will go on if you choose to put things off sometimes. Prioritize taking time off.
Don’t fill your free time with things you don’t want to do. It’s hard to say no to people because you’re a nice person. The last thing you want is to hurt someone’s feelings, so you say yes. You say yes to organizing fundraisers, going to dinners, hosting play groups, and going for drinks in the middle of the week. Even when you don’t want to. Even when all you want to do is read a book for 10 minutes a week when you finally get the chance, or get into pj’s early the night before a busy morning. Stop saying yes. It doesn’t make you mean. It gives you a little time to do whatever it is that makes you happy and you deserve it.
Being happy is not about the chase… unless you really like running. #happiness
Click to Tweet
- Lose the words that fill you with guilt. I could go to the park with my kids but I should go to that baby shower for the girl I barely know. But I need to work on cleaning out the garage and next is the moldy pile of laundry that’s about to avalanche down my bed. Try this: Kids, the park sounds fun (a book for me and play for you!). Skip the baby shower, you’ll be fine. If you don’t know her middle name or her most embarrassing childhood moment, your attendance will not be missed. Promise. But I feel like I should! See? See all that guilt in those words? Frozen yourself and Let.It.Go.
Being happy is not about the chase – unless you really like running.
Being happy is about finding contentment in the everyday moments of life.
It’s about reaching for more, not wishing for more.
Look for ways to increase feelings of healthy satisfaction and decrease stress. Baby steps make all the difference and you can start right now. (Check out The Ultimate Productivity Hacks for Busy Parents over at Kidskintha.com.)
Don’t know where to start?
Reread this article.
You’ve already started. *high five*
If you’re ready…
Ashley & Blair recommend Hands Free Mama, A guide to putting down the phone, burning the to-do list, and letting go of perfection.
It’s a game changer.
If you click the book link, we may earn a tiny commission on your purchase. Please know we only suggest products we use and believe in ourselves.
What’s your favorite tip for living a life that’s content? Share with us in the comments below!
Being an example to other people not only provides the added benefit of assisting other people, but you help yourself at the same time.
I really relate to your article and I especially like number 5.
I have a really (longish) garden, with lots of trees and shrubs and bulbs and its nice to take a five minute break and just stare out of the window, watching the birds fluttering around picking up bits of straw for their nests.
It is really relaxing and I should do it more often, in fact there is a famous poem about this very subject.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Really love this poem, I hope you don’t mind me adding it on here!
The poem is lovely and thank you for sharing it with us!
And yes to staring at pretty things that are good for us 🙂
How to say no…..when someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do or can’t do…. JUST SAY NO….don’t give a reason. If you get into a conversation you are lost. You can say it nicely or say something like I don’t see that happening. Just kidding! The bottom line just say no and don’t feel guilty.
Yes! I find that mothers, especially, offer up excuses as to why they can’t participate. I’m guilty of it. Something to work on. Thanks, Mom! 😉
For me to stop chasing happy I have learned to just live in the moment, as cliche as that sounds. I look around me at all my blessings, health, family, friends, work and take a walk outside in nature. That always helps my body and brain to slow down. I also meditate and do yoga usually once a day. So I guess staying in the present moment and practicing gratitude are my ways.
Cliche, maybe, but also insightful and true. Getting outside, and practicing gratitude and mindfulness, are ways I stay in the present, too. We do it because it works, right? 🙂 Thanks for commenting!
Such an important message. Especially regarding the ‘busyness culture’ we all buy in to. Sometimes doing nothing is the most important thing we can do (or not do!) in our entire day, yet no-one would ever put ‘do nothing’ on their calendar. Maybe that’s why classes in meditation and yoga are becoming so popular. We need the downtime, but feel we can’t schedule in ‘downtime’. We can only schedule in something that looks like a real commitment, such as ‘meditation class’. Nothing wrong with meditation, but wouldn’t it be simpler, and cheaper, to just allow ourselves to do nothing for an hour!
The guilt trip that is downtime, exactly. In my previous career, our coaches would always say, “Put yourself on the schedule.” Literally, pencil yourself into your own schedule. Sounds ridiculous, but it worked.
Thanks, Karen. It’s an insightful comment and something to think about. I’m off to pencil in “me-time” on my calendar… but maybe I’ll need a permanent marker so I don’t erase it!
Yes! The world desperately needs advice like this. It took me ten years of stress and burnout to finally realize I needed to be content with who, where, and what I was. And that it was okay not to be an overachiever any more. I can’t describe how transforming that was.
It’s good to see someone tackling our culture’s perception of happy 🙂
Thank you! We hope others feel the same. Ditch the rat race and take deep breaths right? It’s hard not to get caught up in all of these ideas of what we should be and have, but it’s really damaging to spend your life chasing it all. You lose time you don’t get back. And sanity. Sanity is always a good thing. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!
We have sanity around here, Blair? Are you sure?! 😉
Yes to stopping the chase. It’s funny how things find you when you finally stop looking.