Escaping the happyness trap

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Like most of us, if you’ve ever watched the movie “The pursuit of happyness”, you might be inclined to think that you have to achieve certain goals to become happy.

The story of Chris Gardner struggling to make ends meet with a broken relationship, sharing custody of his son with his ex-wife, while barely being able to pay rent and at the same time working an internship for one of the largest brokers in the world is truly awe inspiring as Chris makes it at the end of the movie and starts his professional career as a broker, allowing him to make millions in the future. It’s a truly moving rags to riches story.

In the moment when Mr. Gardner gets the job against all odds, we all know “he made it” and we are deeply moved by the heartfelt performance of Will Smith crying as he realizes he has finally made it out of his painful life situation. We can feel his suffering and his relief as he achieves his goal to be able to provide for his son.

Getting stuck in the happyness trap

Movies like “The pursuit of happyness” portray what I would like to call “the happyness trap”.

It is in our nature as human beings to strive to improve ourselves and achieve new things in life, so most of us have certain goals we’d like to achieve. Some of us are more clear on who we’d like to become whereas other people still need to figure out who they truly are and who they want to become – and that’s OK. We all have different moments in our lives that serve as catalysts to point us in the right direction.

Whether we already are going in the right direction or not, we often seemingly end up not achieving our goals and as a result we become unhappy but even if we are moving closer towards our goals, we often aren’t satisfied.

Why do we end up unhappy in life?

The answer already lies within the title of the movie. It’s the pursuit of happiness that makes us happy, not the happiness itself. Have you ever worked out at the gym and you are already much more in shape & attractive than you used to be 3 months ago, yet you still don’t seem satisfied, you still compare yourself to others and know that you can do better?

When you’re doing this, what you are doing is rejecting and depriving yourself of self-love. You are putting the idea in your head that “you are not good enough” by comparing yourself with someone else. Comparing ourselves with others leads us to think that we’re not even close to who we should become and because of that, we push even further. We work out harder, we work out more often, we want to get there faster. The more we try to chase happiness, the unhappier we end up becoming. Many people go from one extreme to the other, they focus a lot on their careers, or their personal fitness, or their friends and always jump from one extreme to the other.

You had a great job and salary, but your relationships were suffering? Then you start focusing on your friendships but neglect your career or fitness. Eventually you realize your career isn’t great, and again, you focus too much on your career. Sounds familiar?

As we compare ourselves to the norm we believe exists as portrayed by friends and family, as portrayed by the outside world, we never manage to maintain the positive impact of the things we try to pursue over the long-term.

How do we get out of the happiness trap?

We often chase things we don’t even truly care about because it is what’s expected of us. Modern society and especially our families often victimize us and tell us that we’re supposed to do X or we’re not supposed to be Y. As we pursue life goals for others, rather than ourselves, we seek validation from others in order to be loved and because we believe that we’re not worthy of being loved unless we’re good enough, we end up hating ourselves in the process.

The key to getting out of the happiness trap is starting to let go. You don’t have to let go of your goals & ambitions, but of your need for approval to be someone for someone else, at a certain point in time. There’s no deadline to who you want to become, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve become a successful entrepreneur within the next year or have become a yoga instructor by the end of the year.

What matters is that you keep on pursuing the goal even when you’re not yet there. We need to let go of trying so hard to achieve a certain output and start focusing on the outcome of what it means to achieve the output. You need to begin appreciating the actual process of becoming who you want to be and you need to do it for your own fulfillment.

Fill yourself with appreciation about the process

The word fulfillment stems from feeling filled up inside by our own happiness in the shape of things we truly love to do. What brings you joy and satisfaction? Seeking to better yourself by making others happy does not fill the hole in your heart permanently because as soon as people no longer approve and appreciate you for the things you’re doing, what is left inside of you?

Your beauty is going to fade, your fitness is going to fade, eventually you will no longer be working a job or no longer the number one in your sports club. You have to love yourself for who you’re becoming, not for who you are.

Happiness is truly a choice, it’s a way of life, it’s not a destination you get to eventually. We can choose to be happy at any given moment of our lives, no matter how good or bad our situation, no matter how far or close we are to our goal. It’s natural to mistake the destination of where we want to get to as the place that brings us happiness but real happiness is found in the here and now, in the present moment that’s here for you right now.

Giving yourself time to love yourself at your own pace

We spend so much time worrying about the future and regretting our past, that we have unlearned what it means to appreciate our present. Reaching our goals in the future is important and “making it” like Chris Gardner did is important. We all want a roof over our heads, we all want a healthy romantic relationship, friends who value, a supporting family and so on. But know that just like a great wine, anything great in life requires time. You cannot predict when you’re going to make it, you can only control how much you’re going to make of today to get closer to the goal.

All we can do is to do our best for the day and appreciate that we’ve grown a little bit better than ourselves from yesterday. If you compare yourself to your past self, rather than someone else, you’ll be able to get out of the happyness trap. Stop pushing and expecting so much from yourself and be grateful that you’re working on yourself and are getting better slowly, over-time.