Friday, April 16, 2010

How Would You Answer This Simple Happiness Question?

Do you ever compare where you are now in your life to where others are, or to where you thought you should be by this time? If you do and don’t feel happy, the question and comments here may help.

I have a friend who recently set up a Facebook page and began to reconnect with long-lost friends, learning who was doing what now. She shared that temporary depression settled upon her, as she compared her life now to the lives of some she connected with. I say “temporary” because she eventually realigned her true feelings about this. My friend is, in the main, happy in her life and has good reason to be.

“Back in the day,” others saw her as a leader, a person going places, high places, in her life. The reality is a health condition started nearly two decades ago and altered that “predictable” path. She felt she’d let everyone down because she isn’t in a high-powered position or owns her own company, or whatever else she and they may have expected, and as some of her friends experience. (I add here that we never know a person’s complete story, despite what their successes appear to be. And sometimes, even when we know what’s not working in their lives, we still dwell on something they have that we feel we lack.)

Comparing ourselves to others has a not-so-funny way of making us forget in what measure we’re actually happy with where and who we are. No one lives a life without challenges or feeling a range of emotions; but we are often generally happier, for the most part, than we recognize.

As I thought about what I wanted to say to my friend, an image came to mind and I share it with you here.

Imagine you enter a magnificent hall. There’s a table in the middle of the room and you walk up to it. There’s only one thing on the table: a beautifully bound book with your name engraved on the cover. You open the book to the first page and find this written on it:

Please choose one of the following two options. Know that whichever one you choose will design the map of your life. Question: Do you choose to do and be what makes others happy and win their approval or do you choose to be happy?

I pictured posing these options to a child of age four. It seems easy to imagine a child choosing to be happy—because the child wouldn’t have a clue what the first option might take to succeed at it, but is, likely, darn sure she or he knows what “happy” is.

As adults, and if we’re honest about it, we’ve learned how exhausting the first option can be; yet, we may still feel conflicted about choosing the second option because we’re indoctrinated by our families and every element of society to go for the first one.

In my image, the page with that question appears periodically so we can revisit this choice at different life stages. However, it isn’t beyond imagination that this page “appears” in our life book whenever we think it’s time to consider our options again, especially when we feel we aren’t living an authentic life and, possibly, aren’t even sure what that means to us after years of disregarding it.

The pain of inner discontent drives us to seek external balms and remedies, to seek instant gratifications, which are usually just bandages covering emotional bruises or wounds about authenticity. But these externals and pursuit of or craving for them does not address what begs for nourishment inside of us. Whatever word(s) we use—secure, prosperous, successful, loved, and so on—we ultimately want to feel good, in harmony, about who we are. We’ve become confused about how we can arrive there after years of asking ourselves what others expect of us—so we’re accepted and approved of—instead of what we want for ourselves.

I recently read, “There are many types of success and they aren’t all about getting ahead.” To be consumed with external, tangible success completely or more than inner, intangible success smacks of “I’ll be happy when” thinking/feeling. That kind of thinking/feeling ignores present-moment happiness, which is a form of self-abuse.

We forget to count our successes that no one can measure but us, because we’re conditioned to focus on how others think we measure up. If we remembered to genuinely appreciate all our successes often, we’d feel a great deal happier. We can also look at any area of our life we feel needs a positive shift and ask, “What can I do—that I will do—to allow me to do better than this?” It doesn’t have to be huge, just effective. Don’t talk about it; start where you are, and do something differently.

So, the question is: Do you choose to do and be what makes others happy and win their approval or do you choose to be happy? Like the four-year-old child—are you clear about what that overall feeling means to you?

You are what you practice.

You’re welcome to reprint this article as long as you use my complete bio.

You Are More! Empowerment Coach Joyce Shafer, author of I Don’t Want to be Your Guru, but I Have Something to Say ( Find out how to get Design Your Magnetic Life and Business Vision free, see her books and e-books, and read her current free weekly newsletter at

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