Happiness is quite complicated, yet at the same time it really doesn’t have to be. The problem with happiness is that there are certain fantasies that people hold onto that really distort a healthy sense of happiness.
That being said, when it comes down to it, “happiness” is whatever it means for each person. However, movies, tv, media, and others have strongly influenced unrealistic expectations for what some people expect happiness to be.
Disney and Hollywood functioned for years according to ‘happily ever after’ stories, showing us that not only is there some magical form of happiness that will lead a person to never experience a negative emotion again, but also reinforced (maybe even led to?) a society centered around strong and confident men needing to be the savior, while fragile and helpless women needed to be saved. (Disney hasn’t really changed much, but Hollywood has adapted to less ‘happily ever after’ in recent years). But I digress..
People often look to others as a way of validating unrealistic expectations of happiness. For example, some notice people who always seem to be happy, and then look to them as the model of happiness simply because they always publicly appear happy. “This person is always happy.”
Of course, this works both ways. There are people who also feel they, themselves, have to appear happy every time they’re around other people. This makes the people who strive to constantly show happiness feel that they actually are happy, and makes those who have difficulty feeling happy feel they have a long way to go to get to happiness. “Wow, if that’s what happens looks like, I’m never going to be happy..”
But when it comes down to it, those who need to show constant happiness publicly are not happy all the time (see friends on Facebook who only post happy and fun images, and never post about frustrations, or questions asking for help or guidance).
Now, this isn’t all to say that people who are generally unhappy or depressed are actually happy, or should be happy. This is really meant to say that no one can be happy all the time, and when we feel that happiness is supposed to mean that we must feel happy all the time, we actually defeat ourselves striving for impossible emotional demands (which ends up reinforcing negative emotions — envy, sadness, frustration, self-loathing, etc.).
So, how to be happy:
- Acceptance — if you want to be “happy”, overall, it is essential to accept that you won’t always be in a state of happiness.
- Work through the unhappy feelings; Don’t expect a quick-fix — If you’re expecting to change into a state of overall happiness overnight, you’ll end up disappointed and defeated. If you’re feeling in an overall unhappy place, the contributing factors to this state need to be sorted out before being able to feel an overall sense of happiness with yourself and with your life.
- Don’t expect happiness to feel manic — There’s a difference between forcing projections of happiness (some call it being “on”), and actually feeling an internal sense of happiness. Some people try to project happiness by being more talkative, louder, more smiley, acting as if everything is exciting, etc. However, unless this is your natural state of being, these acts don’t necessarily signify happiness, and can be quite exhausting. One doesn’t need to constantly smile or be excited in order to feel secure and happy. Happiness is an internal sense of being, not an external display.
- Get to know yourself better — If you’re not aware of yourself emotionally, it can be a lot harder to find a sense of happiness. Therapy is a good place to go to get to know yourself emotionally, mentally, to sort out what happiness is for you, and to help move into more states that can build an overall sense of happiness.
- Don’t fight the negative emotions — It may sound contradictory, but fighting off negative emotions (sadness, anger, etc.) generally tends to store them in you so they come back with greater force in other areas of your life. If you’re experiencing negative emotions, addressing them directly can help to move through them.
- Have realistic expectations for happiness –Happiness isn’t a movie or a tv show. If your expectations are quite high, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure. For many people, these expectations are subconscious, so you could be doing this without even realizing it. Therapy is a good place to work on identifying and adjusting these expectations.
While this list is simply stated, it’s obviously not so simple to just become happy. It would be nice if there was a quick and easy way to have a general sense of life happiness. But the main takeaways here are that a person can’t always feel happy in every moment; negative feelings are normal; happiness is internal, not external; and most importantly, unrealistic expectations of happiness will likely defeat happiness.