Happiness; the destination and the journey.

The title of this post is so cheesy but I couldn’t have summarised it any better so bare with me. I’m a self-confessed over analyser. I struggle to just accept things as they are and I constantly question what things mean and why. It’s a running joke in the family! When I was a child my auntie bought me a book called “Why Don’t Fish Have Fingers?” which was full of ridiculous questions and answers that didn’t really need answering in the first place. I asked that many questions I think this book was probably an attempt to not only answer some of them for me, but to provide my family with a minutes peace! Don’t get me wrong, having a curious mind has served me well at times, however when it comes to mental health it’s really not all that helpful.

If you were to ask people what they want from life or what they want for their children, I imagine a lot would say 2 things: health and happiness. Health is obvious and easy to measure, but what actually is happiness?

happy
adjective
  1. feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.
  2. fortunate and convenient.

I wasn’t satisfied with that unfortunately. I’m not a believer that good fortune lends itself to happiness as even the luckiest of buggers gets sad (look at some lottery winners)! Happiness is a transient emotion, as are all emotions. It’s not possible or likely even healthy to truly feel happy or sad or excited or angry at all times. Emotions are a spectrum on which we are somewhere all placed. We move along it and sit interchangeably between categories waiting for a better one to come along. So there’s no point in asking what happiness is, the better question is what does happiness mean? The answer to this question will be different and personal to everyone and it’s definitely worth thinking about. What does happiness mean to you? Is it when you’re active and socialising, is it having a roof over your head, is it having your family around you?

I found that when I asked myself that question I was really quite surprised with the answer. I consistently found myself saying “I’ll be happy when…”

When what?! When I get that job, when I look a certain way, when I live in that area, when I own that thing. After talking to others I realised I’m not the only one. I think it’s part of society now to never really be satisfied, to always be looking at the next whatever and when we do this we forget to acknowledge what we have and what we’re doing right now. Well I got that job. I found out last week I’d been successful in getting a job I’ve wanted for ages and was I happy? Of course. But there is a difference between happiness and contentment with life. I was momentarily happy but now I have that job, that doesn’t mean that any of life’s woes vanish. What I need to learn, what we should all learn is how to be content.

Just to be clear – I’m not saying having goals isn’t a good thing. Goals are healthy and provide people with motivation and drive and are an important part of many therapies when they begin. BUT there is a difference between living a goal-driven life and a value-driven life. Goal-driven is what I was describing before; the I’ll be happy when scenario. Our values are what we stand for and what matters to us. It could be that we value health, relationships, spirituality, education, environmentalism, anything! The beauty of values is that they can never be achieved, so the motivation is always there to live our lives informed by them. For example, my goal could be to lose 7lbs. I can’t hit that goal right now today, so the temptation to go and grab a slab of cake is immense. But not if I’m mindful of my value. I value my health, so although I can’t git my goal today, I am still living in line with my values if I don’t eat the cake. Get it?

Dr. Russ Harris is renowned in the field of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which looks at accepting what is out of your control and committing to act on areas you can. Does what is says on the tin! The analogy below demonstrates the above which I’ve adapted from Russ:

Disneyland

2 children are in the car on a 4 hour journey on their way to Disneyland. The first child is constantly asking are we there yet are we there yet how much further? Totally goal focused, the journey is frustrating and an inconvenience, he just wants to be at Disney already! The second child is value focused. Although he has the same goal of getting to Disney, he is aware of his values of adventure, curiosity and fun. The journey for him is very different, he is noticing the animals they’re driving past, playing I-spy and counting all the different types of cars and trucks he sees. He’s actually appreciating the journey on the way to his goal. The’re both so happy when they arrive as they’ve both achieved their goal of going to Disneyland, but getting there was so very different for each one.

I know which journey I’d rather be on.

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