Everywhere we turn, it seems like someone’s selling a formula for happiness:

  • Buy this dress and you’ll be happy
  • Eat this burger and you’ll be happy
  • Read this book and you’ll be happy
  • Achieve this goal and you’ll be happy
  • Travel to this island and you’ll be happy
  • Marry someone and you’ll be happy
  • Attend this online seminar and you’ll be happy
  • Read this article and you’ll be happy 😂

In summary,

  1. If you’re unhappy, there’s a solution for it
  2. Therefore, you should be happy all the time
  3. If you’re still unhappy, there’s something wrong with you

Happiness has gone mainstream in the past few years – so much so that I think it has become some sort of ‘default goal’ no matter who you are and where you come from. It’s like some sort of race to accumulate riches, but not with money and whatever you do, it’s to obtain happiness – that’s the ultimate end goal. While happiness definitely has a lot going for it, I believe there are many different kinds of happiness (something for another article) that it’s too simplistic to say happiness is the ultimate end goal.

This article explores something that we have all thought of at some point in time – trying to be happy all the time and why that might not be a good idea.

1. We can’t be happy all the time (and don’t need to)

Remember the Pixar movie about emotions – Inside Out? Meet the psychologist consultant behind that movie, Paul Ekman. He created something called the Atlas of Emotions, supported by The Dalai Lama in an effort to help people expand our emotional vocabulary, understand our emotions better and gain greater control over what triggers an emotion.

In it, happiness is what he calls the Enjoyment continent. There are 5 continents, similar to the movie – Enjoyment, Fear, Anger, Sadness and Disgust. Therefore, wanting to be happy all the time or only experiencing happy emotions/experiences is effectively alienating all the other emotions. And with it, we are no longer experiencing the full spectrum of human emotions.

Life is a journey. In it, we experience pleasant and unpleasant events, comfortable and uncomfortable emotions. That’s normal. In fact, that’s human! Feeling sad is human. Feeling angry is human. Feeling a sense of loss is human. Grieving is human. Feeling scared is human.

I’m not saying we should stay and indulge in those emotions, just allowing ourselves to experience them. Don’t see it as something ‘bad’ or to be avoided. It’s just another emotion, just like happiness or enjoyment.

2. We’re not a garbage truck

Also in this journey called Life, we’re bound to encounter challenging situations. Bosses who yell at us, partners who annoys us, losing our jobs to the economy recession, or even simple things like people cutting us in queues, Waze just stopped working, losing our car keys, a critical comment on Facebook or being laughed at in a party.

This is Life throwing us curve balls. It happens. It’s OK if we get hurt, angry or frustrated. The problem comes when we expect ourselves not to. Like we could somehow accept all these difficult emotions that’s being thrown our way and still feel all calm, Zen and relaxed. We’re not a garbage truck – that can just keep accepting ‘sh*t’ and go on our way and feel nothing.

Be kind to yourself, it’s human to have reactions to events, especially challenging triggers. Take your time to be with it, tend to it, listen to it, understand it and it will eventually go on its way. Fighting to not feel these emotions (when they are already there!) will only cause it to grow.

3. It’s OK to feel Stuck, This Too Shall Pass

When we feel unhappy or are dealing with negative experiences, it’s easy to feel stuck. Like we can’t get out of it. But it’s compounded when we blame ourselves and feel guilty for not being able to get out of it. Then, we feel guilty at blaming ourselves and feeling guilty about blaming ourselves. Then, we feel guilty for feeling guilty about feeling guilty.

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Mark Manson

STOP! Take a step back and breathe. It’s just a negative experience. Whenever we feel stuck and can’t get out of it, see if we can be OK with that. Notice if there’s any disliking or wanting to push these feelings away. Remember that this is not only not helping us, but is pushing us a downward spiral. Whatever is happening, just be recognise it as it is – this too shall pass.

Final Thoughts

  1. If you’re unhappy, it’s OK
  2. You’re experiencing the full spectrum of human emotions
  3. If you’re still unhappy, it’s still OK. Emotions change over time

Thanks for reading! And Happy Ramadan Mubarak to all Muslim readers. 🌙

{Article #12}