For a long time I have chased a life of happiness. I thought that making decisions to maximize my happiness would make me…happy. But this has not panned out for me. Chasing happiness has gotten in the way of me actually being happy. The more I wanted it, the more elusive it seemed. Trying to minimize the difficult decisions, the difficult tasks, and the difficult people created more problems for me. I thought the way to happiness would be by avoiding responsibilities, ignoring work, and skirting past tough decisions. Fighting my thoughts and pushing back against my daunting tasks did not make those things disappear. They were still there, looming above me, accumulating and putting even more pressure onto me.
I soon realized I was trying to operate on one extreme of the scale and that life is a balancing act. Sometimes we have to do difficult things. And sometimes, after completing difficult tasks, we feel even better than we did trying to avoid them.
Here are two main lessons I have learned:
- Happiness starts within. Chasing happiness via external channels does not work out. And just because I have tasks to do that I don’t enjoy doing does not mean I will necessarily be unhappy because of them. Oddly, doing tasks that I enjoy doing will not necessarily make me happy. Happiness is decided internally. By realizing that I have control within myself to determine my outlook and my response to situations outside of my control that happen to me, I can choose to be happy by being happy with myself and my efforts.
- A meaningful life is much better. By figuring out what gives you meaning, you gain the ability to push past difficulties and spring towards joy. I used to avoid asking myself what my purpose was. I thought it was irrelevant because we actually have no inherent purpose (very existentialist). But, this does not mean that life has to be devoid of purpose altogether. We can create meaning and purpose in our own lives. I believe this to truly be the thing worth living for, the thing worth working towards which allows us to lift above ourselves and do something outside ourselves. Living a life full of meaning allows us to look beyond our own person so that we can look beyond our own selfish nature and do a greater good. This can be as little as helping a friend in need. You can find meaning being a store greeter by making other people smile or by being a high powered lawyer who helps his or her clients find justice.
If I made every choice to maximize my happiness, I wouldn’t do anything worth doing. I would be stuck doing the easy things. But it turns out that completing difficult tasks lead to long-term happiness because one feels a sense of completion and capability after completing a daunting task. This leads to competency and the belief that you can do something you set your mind to. You realize you either have the skills needed or can learn the skills needed to do those difficult tasks. Feeling competency is part of the recipe to building confidence. Confidence leads to higher self-esteem. You hold yourself in a higher regard when you are confident. This then breeds happiness that stems from inside oneself. And happiness with the self is true happiness.