Greetings, Wellness Warriors! When you think of happiness, what comes to mind? If you ask someone what happiness means to them, you will almost always get a different answer. Maybe it has to do with our societal norms, but I have noticed a common theme, especially among the younger generations, to associate a number with achieving happiness.
Happiness has been a topic of study by psychologists and scientists for decades. The field of research has been named positive psychology and is defined as studying those things that make life worth living. I find it interesting that positive psychology works productively to help us get more of what we want and make ourselves better, happier people. In contrast, traditional psychology focuses on having less of what we don’t want.
In my experience, for many people, there is a number correlated with achieving their happiness goal. Today, I want to discuss some of the common number-associated goals and give you some tips on how you can shift to more sustainable and meaningful goals.
Early in my career, I correlated happiness and success with accumulating wealth. I always thought that I was just a couple of zeroes from achieving a safety net for myself and my family that would allow me to finally live worry-free. Previously, I explained how chasing this number was detrimental to my health, and I wasn’t happy. Instead of chasing dollar signs, aim for finding a career that aligns with your life’s purpose. When you have goals and a sense of meaning that gives life purpose, money tends to follow naturally because you’re passionate about what you’re doing.
Throughout our lives, we look forward to reaching certain age milestones. Turning 16 means we can drive and don’t need to rely on our parents dropping us off everywhere. When we turn 16, we immediately are looking forward to turning 18. We think that being an adult with newfound freedom will bring us the happiness we greatly desire. It’s easy to stay in this pattern of looking ahead and anticipating the next best thing. If you’re not careful, you will continue to do this until you’re looking forward to turning 60 when you can retire, and then you’ll finally be happy... We know logically this is not the case. Living in the present and appreciating where you are currently is the only way you won’t allow life to pass you by.
How many times have you heard someone say, “If I can lose 25lbs, I will feel good about myself, and then I will be happy!” Or, if I can wear a size 6, I will be happy! Unfortunately, it can be easy to get caught in the weight loss spiral where enough is never enough. If you decide it would be beneficial for your health to lose weight, focus on things like how you feel, your cardiovascular level, or improved quality of life over what the scale says. Your life will feel far more fulfilling when you can resist societal pressures to look a certain way, regulate your behaviors from within, and evaluate yourself based on your own personal health standards.
I remember when my children were in high school and wishing I could relieve the pressure they felt to achieve a high GPA to get accepted to the best colleges, get the dream job, and have a dream life. Nowadays, the pressure to excel academically is happening among students even before they reach high school. Getting good grades and succeeding academically is vital to acquiring knowledge to equip us for life’s challenges. However, instead of chasing a GPA or percentage grade, focus on improving and developing yourself so you can realize your potential. Good grades will follow.
Numbers are Arbitrary
It’s human to attach numbers to goals because it gives us something tangible and attainable. This is not to say that you shouldn’t set financial, weight loss, or academic goals. However, your ultimate happiness and wellbeing shouldn’t be dependent on reaching that number. You can attach a number to almost anything. The problem is, when you chase a number, the number always changes. This is because even if we achieve all our goals and get everything we want, some newer, more attractive source of happiness will always arise for us to chase. Far too often, we are so focused on the number or the end goal that we forget to make the most of the journey.
Happiness from Within
For me, I am happiest when I am living my life’s purpose and being present with my family. Making sure our Aegis Living residents are cared for, and our employees are happy, gives me so much joy and isn’t something I can quantify. I believe it’s so important to recognize that happiness is not somewhere off in the distance.
Happiness is not a number we should be striving to reach. Happiness comes from the elements of life like character strengths, positive emotion, resilience, purpose, positive relationships, and creative achievement. This week, focus on letting go of the false conception of true happiness as an elusive, far-off number to reach in the future. Instead, try to acknowledge happiness as something that we can achieve with small steps right now.
Until next time, Live Well, Live Long!