Why I Don't Really Strive For "Being Happy" Anymore

Happiness. That’s the ultimate goal, right? That’s what we are being told in inspirational quotes on our social media feeds, on shiny magazine pages, by our well-meaning parents from the day we are born. Happiness is the default, or at least the default aspiration in life. Especially in the time of social media, that’s what we also tend to prioritize when we share our stories – the shiny, happy parts. Moments of success, smiling faces. And while we realize that no one’s life can be perfectly happy and what we see of most people is only surface, during tougher periods of your life it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one struggling and failing. If being “happy” is the default, why on earth does achieving and maintaining it often feel so difficult?

Our obsession with happiness and personal success has also been contested. Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay, who spent decades interviewing Australians about the concept of a “good life”, came to a conclusion that having a good life is not synonymous with being as happy and successful as possible. Rather than being a happy life, a good life is a life that is whole – the kind in which every emotion and experience is valued since they all teach us something. American social researcher Brené Brown talks about the power of vulnerability: the positive impact that the courage to be open about and comfortable with your “flaws”, insecurities and failures has on individuals, communities and societies at large. What both, after years of research, seem to argue is that rather than striving for happiness and success, people striving for a good life (and that’s what we all do, don't we?) should strive for wholeness.

As a sensitive person very prone to mysterious mood changes and melancholy I spent years thinking that there was something terribly wrong with me. It took over 24 years of life to comprehend that no, I am not flawed. Or, actually, that I am terribly flawed and that’s the greatest thing. It took someone I admired rejecting me for being too much of a human mess sometimes, making me fall into tiny pieces at first and then feel something I’d never felt before – a compassion towards myself, a desire to give myself a warm consoling hug, the kind I’d give to a sad friend. I realized that what I love most about other people are their so-called weak points; that I find others most beautiful when they feel secure enough to share their deepest fears and insecurities, when they have the courage to be vulnerable. And if I love these things in others, why not in myself? Why was my first reaction when I felt insignificant and weak to beat myself down even more, not to gently say “that’s fine, you are fine” like I would to a friend? I realized it didn't make any sense. And ever since then, I’ve felt… kind of better.

This is the part where my friends raise their eyebrows and kindly point to the numerous times in the last month alone I’ve broken down crying when they’ve asked me how I am doing. But the point is: this change in my mindset has not made me happier – that would kind of invalidate the whole idea. But it has made my existence on this strange planet somehow fuller. When my initial thought at every single life decision is less “will this make me happy” and more “will this make me experience things and eventually widen my perspective”, I feel freer. I’m less scared of stumbling and falling down and getting hurt. I’m less scared of feeling scared, if that makes sense. Much of the time I’m scared as hell and have no idea what I’m doing. And that is perfectly fine.

Both Mackay and Brown highlight the significance of real human connection as the basis of a good life – and both note that our obsession with seeming as perfect as possible and trying to treat life as something that can be controlled if you're just strong and successful enough are the main things standing on its way. The key to connecting is letting ourselves be truly seen and choosing to truly see others even when there is absolutely no guarantee that it will end happily. It's not easy to be open about the parts in you that may not be that pretty and strong, or to throw yourself in the uncertainty of everything, but what else can we do but try?

So, keep on finding peace from inspirational “be happy” quotes if you feel like it. I probably sometimes do, too, because happiness is beautiful. But so is feeling sad and afraid and annoyed and longing and lonely and ridiculous and weak and about a million other things I could list. Happiness is nice, but perhaps it should not be treated as the ultimate goal. Perhaps it should be treated as a nice little interphase where you can comfortably rest and collect a little energy in between other kinds of phases, the kinds that truly teach you something valuable and widen your perspective and eventually make you a little bit bigger of a person with more understanding and empathy for other people and for yourself – something that being perfectly content and successful could never do. And maybe we should all be a little bit more open about our weakest moments and most scared parts and, through it, feel a little less alone.

Photos from Death to the Stock Photo