Often we tell our children, our friends or ourselves that it doesn’t really matter if you don’t end up being a successful lawyer, have the perfect job, find a man or achieve different high set goals – the most important is that you are happy! That’s a relief, isn’t it? Or? Maybe it’s a curse!
Do you know how to be happy all the time? It’s pretty hard and if the goal is to be constantly happy you are most probably going to fail. If “being happy” it said to be your main goal in life, a sense of failing might be a big risk throughout your life. How come that we say this to our children and friends all the time then? I think our intention is to say that your inner emotions are much more important in life than outer conditions like job, title, fancy apartment et cetera. But we are comparing two very different things here, and that’s what makes it confusing.
Let’s say that your child has no ambitions to go on to university after high school. To show your child that you are not a pushy parent, but one that firstly cares about his or her wellbeing, you say; “It’s okay that you don’t continue your education, because what’s most important is that you’re happy.” But your child is not happy. Most young adults aren’t so sure about what they want, who they are and what makes them happy. So not only will they not continue their education, they will also feel like a failure for not being happy, now when they got the opportunity to choose. What I mean is that we shouldn’t put Education vs. Happiness. Those are two different things. You can go to university and be happy or unhappy, or you can work at the local store some years and be just as happy or unhappy. So those outer things has very little to do with the happiness we wish for our children or friends.
If we take a closer look at this “as long as you are happy”, I think that we mostly mean that you should do what you find inspiring and interesting to do. We know that people who do things (job, education, hobbies) that they like are more prone to have a positive feeling than those doing something they dislike. That’s not so strange. The complication is that we have not taught our children how to know what they like! So we tell them about the most important task in life without telling them how to do it. As a life coach I often meet people in their middle age who still don’t know how to figure out what they want, just because nobody ever taught them what questions to ask themselves. On the contrary – they have been taught NOT to think so much about what they want for themselves!
The second complication is that even if we have a job we like, we won’t be happy every single minute of the day, year in and year out. Of course not! So we also have to figure out how to go for a better feeling when we are not feeling so good. Nobody taught us that either! If you hate someone or something in your life you are far from happy. And even if you want to be happy, you might not know how to reach that feeling. One way of doing it is to reach for a less negative feeling, frustration for example. When you have been able to feel frustration instead of hate for a while, you can go on to irritation. That way you can slowly, slowly lift yourself towards contentment, and maybe even happiness. But this is something we have not been trained for, so it’s not that easy to figure out by yourself.
So in the example with your child going or not going to university, I think this would be better to say: “A good education might make it easier for you to choose better what profession you want and maybe you can earn more money which might be convenient in your life. No matter what you do when it comes to working or going to university, what I really want you to start training how to feel as good as possible when life’s ups and downs hit you. I wish that you will be able to choose a somewhat better thought when you are down and help yourself feeling better, and enjoy your random days of happiness wherever you are, whatever you do.”
Do you think I’m being too pessimistic today? Or is constant happiness achievable?