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The Courage it Takes to Be Happy

Lately, I’ve been mulling over the courage it takes to be happy. Not the Instagram performance “happy.” Truly, sincerely, happy.

There is significant research on happiness (Dr. Santo’s lab, The Happiness Research Institute, Dr. Ed’s Stuff, Shawn Anchor who is meh, Google Scholar pieces here, it’s ENDLESS).

We know empirically that joy > happiness (one is lasting, the other fleeting) and that there are 60,000,000 katrillion benefits to your physical and emotional well-being if you’re happier.

We also know, empirically, that if you want to be FOR REAL happy in life, you need good, authentic, no-kidding, substantive, positive relationships. Not fake or superficial ones. Relationships are the protective and predictive factor for a happy life.

I’m concerned with why we preach entitlement to happiness as a cultural value, but fail to adequately pursue it or even recognize it when it hits us. Like we act as if the above research doesn’t exist or isn’t relevant to us specifically.

I’m not sure we know the difference between someone who is sincerely happy (a positive emotional state that includes satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, and, for the sake of discussion we’ll include, joy) and someone who is faking it.

I’m concerned about this for the same reason people are concerned about social media and A.I.: Can we tell between real and fake?

And does it matter?

It is our prerogative to live unsatisfied, unhappy, bitter, and resentful lives. That’s part of freedom. You’re allowed. I’m allowed to be angry and post like I’m not. There’s no law I’m violating that prevents me from presenting a false self to the world.

Where I think it gets dangerous is with the lying.

You’re entitled to feel whatever you feel, but you are not allowed to tell others how they should live their lives, based on how you live yours. You’re not allowed to claim you’re fine when you are not in order to save face, and you’re not allowed to rely on proxy metrics for internal satisfaction and then act surprised when that doesn’t work.

That’s the part that concerns me. A lot.

I’m perpetually stunned (and frankly bored) by the number of people chasing what they think will “make” them happy, arriving at the place and going, “This isn’t what I thought.”

[insert examples of every startup founder ever] [kidding] [kinda]

For mammals who are so smart, we are profoundly dumb on this point. We’ve crafted a culture that negates the very values we purport to espouse (relationships, meaningful work, honesty, integrity, happiness). We instead, promote ideas of hustle and the Lone Founder, and individualist ideas of success, not sleeping, money, power, status, and all the things that lead to quite literally the opposite of happiness (see paragraph above or just Google Dr. Santos).

Ignorance on this topic is frankly ridiculous at this point, and yet, here we are.

We have excellent data now on what leads to a great, meaningful, fulfilling, satisfied, “happy,” life. And we continue to chase the opposite, on account of things like: “to make my parents happy” “to impress my friends” “so people like me” “so I can have power” or whatever your psychological Achille’s heel is. I’m not judging your Achille’s heel, I have plenty; I’m judging the denial of it.

If we want a more self-actualized society that represents life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness then we need to stop doing the opposite.

Our actions must match our intentions. And when they don’t, when they are misaligned, we suffer. Interpersonally, intra-personally, emotionally, psychologically, physically, and otherwise.

When there is a mismatch between what you believe and how you behave, you will always find suffering.

I challenge us to consider what brings us joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment divorced from what society says “should.”

To know the difference between what society inaccurately dictates should “make you” happy and what actually does. This necessitates the following skills, which I believe we are sorely lacking but can improve upon: self-reflection, insight, self-awareness, empathy, courage, the willingness to be wrong, the tension of being disliked or difficult, and (hardest of all) the courage to tell yourself the truth.

I hope you find that courage.

I believe the courage to tell ourselves the truth about what’s working and what is not in our lives, where we derive joy and where we don’t – is subversive.

Because once you are aware of it then (whispers) you have to do something about it.

In the end, you can’t *really* lie to yourself because the body keeps the score. It’s how psychological physics works. That resentment, rage, dissatisfaction, bitterness, jealousy, and longing comes out eventually. Only when you deny they’re there, you lose your power. You don’t get to determine how they come out or who they will hit on the way out…

Telling ourselves the truth about who we are, how we’re behaving, and how we feel holds the key to revolutionizing the world.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, I implore you to try. And see what happens 🙂 

To the pursuit of authentic joy, real relationships, and the discernment to know when you are pursuing someone else’s dream,