I hate being the one to break this to you, but you do know, don’t you, that you can have everything you want and still be miserable?
The truth is that so much has been documented about just what to do in order to achieve happiness, yet very little is talked about what happens when you get there and realise after all that time and effort that it’s not all it was hyped up to be.
You know that feeling when you’ve built something up in your head, you’re convinced that when you get it, have it, achieve it, everything will feel different, that you’ll feel different, better, happier? Yet when it happens you can’t help but feel a little anticlimactic and let’s be honest, empty. It hasn’t lived up to the promise and you think you’re to blame for not being able to savour and celebrate the moment. But you’re not!
Psychology expert Tal Ben-Shahar even has a name for this. He calls it ‘arrival fallacy’, which essentially is the illusion that once you make it, once you achieve your goal, lasting happiness will be waiting for you. Often this happens because we have built something in our minds to be so great, so huge. The anticipation is bigger than the outcome and, in our attempts to stay motivated we tell ourselves that all this effort will be worthwhile when we get there. So why don’t you feel happy when you achieve something?
Many believe that the notion that success always brings us happiness is false. Science tells us that it is better to focus more on ‘being’ happy rather than on chasing success to bring us that happiness. It suggests that many of our challenges and problems will disappear if we focus more on happiness instead of success. Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.
I can see the truth in that, but for me, it also points to something much closer to home and a lot simpler for us to grasp. For the longest time, I was hitting so many of my goals. I was ticking all of the boxes while I moved up in my career, put money in the bank, bought my first home, went on great holidays, treated myself to nice things and by external standards I was in a very good place.
Internally was a very different story.
I was deeply unhappy. I didn’t quite realise just how miserable I was only that no matter what was on my agenda to achieve or succeed in, as soon I got it the feeling of pleasure was fleeting and temporary. Some other things had happened in my life, such as grief and loss, and so I just accepted that I felt how I felt because of them. It took quite some time and a lot of self-work for me to realise that the reason I felt so unhappy was that I was motivated by what I believed I should want rather than what I really wanted. When I reflected back on all of the big decisions I had made in my life, a pattern emerged. I could see that each decision was based on what I believed others expected of me, what the world around me was telling me to do, and that the one measure that was absent throughout, was me choosing to do what I wanted to do.
When it came down to it, I was surprised to discover that I actually didn’t even know what that was. I had no clue what it was I wanted to do. I found it strangely unsettling to find myself sitting with a blank page in front of me staring at the words ‘who do I want to become?’
Once I started to get more clarity on just who it was, I wanted to become, and just what it was I wanted to achieve from my life, that feeling of contentment and happiness slowly started to emerge. I felt proud and excited when something I really wanted manifested before me. That pure sense of satisfaction was my way of knowing that this mattered to me and when it mattered, I felt more purposeful in doing what was needed to be done. It didn’t feel like a struggle because it now had greater meaning for me.
THREE SIMPLE STEPS TOWARDS CONTENTMENT
Let’s be honest, getting to a place where happiness and ease become a way of life, a state of being, rather than a future goal or objective, really takes some practice.
CLARITY ON YOUR VALUES
What matters most to you right now? What do you believe will give you and your life more meaning? What are the things that give you a greater sense of significance and a stronger sense of purpose? What motivates and excites you? What are the things that feed your passion? Hint: Sometimes the best place to start with these questions can be to eliminate what you know is making you unhappy.
What sparks joy in you when you’re doing it? Really think about this one. If nothing jumps to mind immediately go back to your childhood: what did you use to love to do? It might be painting, horse-riding, writing, dancing, baking, planting seeds, playing shop, let your mind run wild. When you’re doing something you really enjoy, a gorgeous state of flow occurs naturally and you lose that restrictive sense of self and you become utterly absorbed in what you’re doing, you become much more present in your life and in all that you do. These moments, this way of living is showing you what matters to you.
Thinking about what gives you joy and makes you happy, ask in what way are you truly making a difference? How are you connected to those around you, to your community? What role are you playing? Even if you’re just providing a shoulder to a friend or helping someone laugh, that’s what can give you greater meaning in life. Your greatest sense of satisfaction comes from knowing that you’re engaging in something that’s significant, something that’s making a difference to other people’s lives. You will get such pleasure in knowing that your actions are benefitting others.
I’m not sure that I believe that the end destination of being happy exists in the form that we are told that it is. So, what is it then that makes me happy? Right now, where I am in my life, happiness for me is being happy with who I am. The rest is all just gravy!
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach and Author. She’s known for her practical solutions to life’s challenges and her ability to tell you not what you want to hear but always what you need. Niamh has just launched THE CHANGE ACCELERATOR her Self Study Programme for those looking to change something in their lives. Find her on Instagram @1niamhennis or niamhennis.com.