You don’t have to be happy all the time
Updated: Jan 28
Why contentment is a more realistic end goal.
Spend just five or ten minutes browsing through Instagram posts and Stories, and you might be persuaded that life should be a perennial high. Every moment uploaded is usually one of enjoyment, pleasure, fun or success.
It can be overwhelming because, usually, our own lives don’t mimic that ‘always-amazing’ pattern.
In reality, it’s impossible to be happy all the time. Think about it: unhappiness, stress and challenges are an unavoidable part of life. Without them, we wouldn’t truly appreciate those real moments of happiness and achievement.
It’s a simple notion, but quite a relief when you consider it that way. Life is meant to be a rollercoaster with a full spectrum of experiences and corresponding emotions. The pinnacle points are just that – peaks of elation we should enjoy. But feeling unhappy doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong, just as being challenged is not a failing.
Allowing yourself to understand and accept the emotions you’re feeling, but then moving forward, is vital to strengthening your mental resilience.
Ups and downs, twists and turns
Life is constantly moving. We shift between environments we can and can’t control, as well as things we do and don’t like. Sometimes it may feel like we’re dealing with one challenge after another, as we move from one situation to the next.
Yet, simply focusing on the extremes of joy and sorrow, success and failure, happiness and sadness, is ignoring everything in between. When really, it is this part of our life – full of twists and turns as we work things out - that we should notice and appreciate.
One of my favourite quotes from writer and philosopher Alfred D. Souza is: “For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”
Looking at life differently
Life is a pendulum and the key to feeling a greater sense of contentment is to find joy in the transitions.
To do that, it’s helpful to take a step back and take a more holistic view of your day, week, month or year. More often than not, if something bad happens to us or we experience some unhappiness or hardship, we go home at the end of the day feeling disappointed or defeated, and say: “That was a bad day”. But was it all bad? Instead of painting it with a broad brush, consider the good things that happened that day – no matter how small or mundane. Remember the smiles shared and patience found, the lessons learned, effort given and help received. Find some satisfaction in the things that usually go unnoticed.
When we start to pay closer attention to all the smaller things that happen in between life’s ‘big’ events, we’ll soon see that life can’t, and shouldn’t, be a continuous chase for highs.
Pace your life
Let’s explore this with an example. Someone might say, “I want to run a marathon.” You might have said it yourself or you’ve probably heard someone you know say it. And it’s sincere – they would like to achieve that goal.
But in order to do it, they also need to be prepared to run every day or week until they get to marathon day. It will be mentally and physically demanding, it might be boring, and it will probably be painful at times too. It certainly won’t be pure happiness all the time. But the sense of achievement and pride in the process of working towards and completing the goal, will far surpass a singular high. There is no doubt that race day will be an exhilarating experience, but the deeper sense of contentment will likely be found in all the work done and the personal dedication that lead up to the big event.
It might be a cliché when we start to talk about life as a marathon, but by taking a longer-term approach we can better accept life’s ups and downs, and actually find the pleasure in them. That’s when we realise that seeking continuous happiness is actually not the right goal.
One moment in time
One helpful thing to do in order to practise this mindset, particularly when you’re frustrated or overwhelmed, is to remember that it’s just one moment in time. It will pass, so try not to hold on too tightly or to judge too harshly.
Catastrophising when in a trough is a self-sabotaging trap, so take a step back, take stock and tell yourself that it’s ok to feel this emotion (knowing it too will pass).
Take the challenges in your stride and choose not to judge yourself on the outcome of any one moment or any one day in isolation. Remember the bigger picture and the totality of your life as you recharge and look towards tomorrow. This is everyday resilience in action.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed and can’t seem to move forward, look to others for help. When you’re feeling stuck and unhappy, recognise that you don't have to work through it on your own. Turn to your friends, family and colleagues. Not only will they bring different skills and fresh energy, they'll probably bring a greater sense of perspective too. In sharing life’s complexities with others, we can find answers, meaning and encouragement. We realise that our rollercoaster journey is normal and that time averaged contentment is what we should seek.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on November 26, 2017.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.