6 reasons why you fail at being happy

Pictured: 6 pounds of repressed hatred.

If decades happened like office parties, they’d be full of people you don’t really want to mingle with and a vague smell of deviled eggs. Also, they’d have a theme.

If you’re to believe what you see on social media, TV and your local bookstore, you’ll find this decade’s theme rather self evident: happiness.


When the 90s and 00s™©®were dedicated to success (whatever that word means now), happiness, peace of mind and inner balance have climbed up the charts, seemingly holding tight on the top positions.
But then, if happiness is all around, why are you feeling like writing songs about raven feathers softly smothering the cold autumn of your dying heart? Why is that your immediate future looks like a mountain made entirely of bear traps and songs by Justin Timberlake? I’ve asked myself these questions more than once, for years. Surprisingly enough, for someone whose IQ is slightly higher than your average oyster’s, I have found answers.
These answers have helped me do stuff I like, and go through major challenges (read: raging shitstorms) while keeping both my feet on the ground most of the time. I am now writing for a living, in a city ranked among the top 10 best places to live in Asia (15.000 km from my home town), and I started all that with no baggage but an empty purse and clinical depression.
If, all of a sudden, I was sent back in time to face a younger, confused and slightly less handsome version of me, these are the six reasons I would give him before freaking out.

1) You feel obligated to be happy

Ain’t peer pressure a bitch?
Your first cigarette, shot of whisky, satanic ritual… might all be rooted in your thinking that if everybody around you does something, it might be the right thing to do. Worse, not doing it might even make you feel abnormal.
Maslow said it before me (duh), being accepted is, like, super important. No, you’re not likely to make many friends if you’re one of those emo freaks complaining about the strangely beautiful brittleness of human condition.
Nobody escapes The Pyramid.
So there you go, you try showing your best side, all the time, even if you woke up late this morning, only to find out that your pre-commute rush would be devoid of milk, cereal, or hot water, and realized only halfway to your office that today is actually Sunday.
Dealing with the rest of the day will get the best of you, you’ll later complain about having to act all the time, wear a smiling mask and deal with some serious frustration.
After all, your 600 Facebook friends are all boasting about how magic their day is, and it would somewhat turn you into a party pooper if you didn’t join in. Nobody likes a sad freak, right?

So what?

Express yourself gosh darn it! Nothing is always bright, nothing is always right. That includes you and, news flash, all off the 600 poseurs who posted their daily motivational sunrise picture on your timeline.
Don’t let it fool you, they are not posting these messages to share the joy, but because they need to show you they are happy too. Yup, peer pressure works for them, too.
Let it flow, be angry when you feel angry, sad when you feel sad, and glad when you feel glad. Donning the happy costume will only be as useful as your first cigarette.
Pictured: Happy feet.
Most importantly, find your own way of doing so. We’re all different, to some extend, and if I delight in hunting baby seals to relieve my stress, you might prefer water painting.
Although, doing so might prove a tad harder than it seems since…

2) You shun negative emotions

It’s only logical. Trying to look happy all the time will have you bury everything negative at the bottom of the “Bad” bucket.
Problem: the more you’ll want to bury your bad feeling, the quicker they’ll surface back, right when you really don’t need them.
You’ll find yourself irritated all the time, and most importantly, you’ll feel wrong about both the feelings you’re trying to repress and the ensuing bad mood.
Of course, feeling bad about feeling bad won’t make anything better. This circle is so vicious it eats puppies for breakfast. Depressive puppies. And you’re next on the menu if you keep it up.

So what?

Start by accepting that you can indeed bear negative emotions every now and then. After all even Superman went through a phase (probably after realizing that not a single movie based on him is even half entertaining).
Then, try changing your perspective. Bad feelings are not there to make your life a living, circular hell; they are signals intended to alert you when something goes wrong.
Pain? Your body is being armed, do something. Sadness? Something is missing. Fill the hole. Anger? Things are escaping your control, either let go or fix it.
You’ll realize very soon that seeing negative emotions as pointers to a problem is much more helpful than downright denial, especially if you’re looking for solutions.
After all, you drink when you’re thirsty, right? (Yes, water.)
With these basics covered, it should be enough to set you happiness as a goal. Or not. Why? Well, exactly because…

3) You see happiness as goal

To paraphrase Rain Wilson in the arguably bad movie “Super”,

“I kind of think happiness is overrated. People spend their whole lives chasing it because it’s the most important thing in the world.”

This quote kind of sums it up.
See, happiness is much more comparable to a drug high than a week long beach holiday. When you’re happy, your brain releases a cartload of feel good hormones (serotonin, dopamine, why, even endorphin) which will make you feel like your life is finally complete, that tomorrow will welcome a new dawn of glitters and skyfalling gold coins…
Until the next morning shows you no more than a big ball of flaming gas hovering in the sky.
That moment always feels wrong. You should be in a good mood all the time, and every tomorrow should be as great as you expect it to be.
Only, that’s not likely to happen.
This asshole will ruin your day.
The release of these mood boosting hormones you’re so badly craving for is temporary and if we need them to be fully functional in society, we can’t expect them as anything but as… a byproduct.
If you’re only expecting your future to be brighter on the pretense that it HAS TO BE SO, you’re in for a huge disappointment and, most likely, you’re under the influence of the oh so nasty impact bias

So how?

You don’t feel good just because. You feel good thanks to something. Whether your goal is to save the world, get filthy rich or stop working and smoke pot for the rest of your life, reaching it will trigger the bliss, until you get bored of it and find a new one.
Hopping from target to target, be it as mundane as having a killer breakfast or as life changing as having your twelfth pair of twins, will make you feel alive and keep you looking forward rather than brooding about [insert anything that could have been better “if only”].
There is a difference, though, between having goals and being “caught in the rat race”, and it might very well be that…

4) You’re racing for achievements

And you might not even see it, even as you’re reading these lines. Why? Achievement is a good thing! It helps us go forward, grow into better persons, have better lives and we’re conditioned to chase that dragon since our first graded tests, or even before (see what I did here?)
‘Worst’, ‘worse’, ‘better’, ‘best’… these words are bad enough when they start defining our relationship to the ‘outside world’, and more often than not, they are hiding behind their big bully of a cousin: ‘more’.
As in “running after more, better things, always”
To illustrate the dangers of this combination, let’s take the totally (not) inoffensive example of casual mobile games (tell me you saw this one coming).
Sometimes around 2009, the Evil Consortium of Evil Game Developers let out an evil memo stating that if games could serve their players a lot of little rewards for not effort cost at all, they’d tap into our instinctive attraction toward “better” and “more” at once, and make us pay for it.
Achievement unlocked: Farmville was born.
Now ask yourself how you feel when you’re advancing in this non-game and its ilk (Candy Crush, I’m pointing at you, with an angry Oompa Loompa armed and ready to use).
Ask yourself, then, whether the feeling you get is par with how better you life has become since you’ve started playing.
You’ll be inclined to think three things:
  • It feels good, so why should you care?
  • Holy shit I’ve lost so much time on this!
  • Bloody murder, I’ve lost so much time on so many stuff that don’t make me feel twice as good and don’t improve my life half as much!
On one hand, you’ll quickly realize that you don’t need high achievements to feel good, but on the other hand, you’ll freak out thinking of how your time could have been spent on more rewarding things, that can actually change the way you see life for longer than the interval between two harvests.

FarmVille is the mind-killer. FarmVIlle is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my FarmVille. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where FarmVIlle  has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

It’s really a matter of balance between feeling good and doing well. A balance heavily thrown off by tons of ‘more’ and ‘better’.

So what?

Realizing that you only have 24 hours a day and so many days in your life could be a good start. Piling up more targets than you can run after won’t help. Running after targets you can walk after won’t help either.
I’m not saying you should stop being ambitious, or stop learning things. But the day you find yourself drowning in a sea of cortisol (or booze, or both), wondering how to keep up with work, friends, private life, yoga, fundraisers, office parties, man hunts, Facebook games and baking contests… may be the day you need to figure out what’s really working for you.
Which could be trickier than you think since, very probably…

5) You’re living up to someone else’s standards

A car big enough to fit a whole circus, a house big enough to fit a circus, it’s cousins and their pets, a TV flatter and bigger than [mom joke goes here] and the last set of deluxe raisin coring set as seen on the shopping channel… you’ve got everything you need. Or not.

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like”

I didn’t say that. Chuck Palahniuk made Tyler Durden say it in “Fight Club” (book and movie).
This quote concerns lifestyle and career as much as it does material belongings, as proven by many American comedies where the main protagonist or Adam Sandler has to choose between career and family, with peace of mind and happiness being weighed against a fifth APV (spoiler: they usually get to keep the four first cars).
Living up to other’s standards is the protein mix you drink after your peer pressure drills. A formidable guilt enhancer, which will insure a maximal frustration/effort ratio for every goal you reach.
Reaching a target for which you don’t care a fig (whether it’s a surviving a karaoke night or a winning a football game) will leave you with the satisfaction of a job well done (after all you’ve done something) along with the knowledge that you will be asked more of the same later, and the intense frustration occurring when you don’t feel fulfilled at all. Which is kind of funny, since not reaching that same target will also melt your self esteem into a sad little puddle. Once again, thank you, peer pressure.
Pictured: Self esteem in a peer pressure prone work environment.
It gets hilarious (if your sense of humor is so sick it regularly sneezes at you) when you start failing at doing things you feel obligated to do, but don’t like to begin with. Failure will make you feel unappreciated, and you will compensate by either trying to do more of that compulsory chore -who knows you might get good at it even if you hate it- or by doing something else fulfilling everyone’s expectations but yours. Like trying hard to not get mad, get mad anyway, and boast on Facebook that you learned a valuable lesson and will keep your cool longer next time, then try to take some extra mediation classes when you really could have used the money on something really relaxing (whatever floats your boat, just remember that nothing floats on Vodka).
Finding the reason you got mad and cutting the problem at its roots could be better, but what if the problem is that you are trying to enforce standards you don’t really want to live by?
Hope you’ve been packing snacks, the guilt trip can be pretty long.

So what?

The reason I took video games as an example earlier is that they are a closed system, a system with its own objectives, reachable within its own rules and context.
What makes closed systems interesting is that they all exist inside another closed system, on which they depend. You can play a game within a game within a game, each with their own rule set, but ultimately, all these games exist inside, well, the real world. And in the real world, you get to chose the rules.
True, you won’t find a place on earth where murder or theft is regarded kindly, but pretty much all the rest depends on your local law and your personal inclination towards not being too much of an asshole.
Guess what? There’s nothing written in any law that prevents you from going tap dancing when all your friends are watching a game. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting, not racing, and not entering a pissing contest equipped with someone else’s dong (you’re welcome). All these behaviors are rules belonging to closed systems. Whether you play or not is your choice alone.
On the more scientific side of the question, a certain Erik Erikson, who taught psychoanalysis at Harvard as a day job, and at Yales on the side, has established a list of “Virtues” we need to acquire in order to maintain stable, balanced lives.
If intimacy, integrity and purpose make the list, ability to smile when hearing bad news and amount of leisure boats owned are strangely absent.
All that to say: some things things make you happy, some things don’t, get more of the former, less of the latter.
I know a good shortcut to sort them out:it if helps you wake up in the morning, it’s probably good for you.
Well, good for you as long as you remember to interact with ‘the outside world’, that is. None of the above advices will help if…

6) You’re self centered to the point of implosion

I don’t mean you’re an egoist. I mean that you listen to yourself too much, and base everything you do upon what you hear.
Stop smoking, stop drinking, stop complaining, stop feeling so bad, eat less, drink less soda, watch your mood, work more, work out more, smile more, learn more… and be happy, that’s an order from you to yourself! Are you still here? You don’t see it, but at this point, your navel is gazing back at you, asking you to stop because you’re making it uncomfortable.
You’ve come to believe that everything happening to you is your own and sole responsibility. Gained weight? You ate too much. Got sick? You didn’t rest enough. A tornado pries off the roof of your house? You should have lived elsewhere.
In the movie of your life, after a still of your roof flying in the sunset while singing the lonesome cowboy song, the camera will zoom out from your rain and tears soaked face, electronics exploding in slow motion in the background, voicing the shame you feel at not being able to stop a storm all by yourself with your best dramatic line: “I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED!”.
That’s how it goes. Every little thing that should be all right and ends tits up is your responsibility, every big thing as well. Things should be in control. Yours.
I can’t blame you. Anyone looking for advice on the topic will face a wall of DOs and DONTs screaming back at them. This wall is the ultimate trap, barring the way to any real development, keeping you safely held within yourself.

So what?

Listen, there ARE things such as luck, randomness and many other things you cannot control, even remotely. No matter how connected you feel to the Universe, I can assure you the Universe doesn’t feel the same about you and keeps on happening behind your back.
Supernovas, for instance, are bursting without us about 900 times every five minutes without asking for our permission. Around 7 billions people live their lives, constantly taking actions which will influence other’s path, be it in a way as negligible as serving the wrong kind of cheese in your burger or as major as losing control of their school bus.
The complexity of life on earth is so ridiculously high that, from our brain’s point of view, we’re facing chaos.
We can chose to deny it, try finding every possible pretext to link everything happening to us with our own actions, or accept that we’re way in over our heads and focus on things we can actually influence, like a bestial breakfast after a night of yummy sex.
This is a map of the Internet, we haven’t even started with the ‘outside world’ yet.

You can stop reading here.

That’s it folks, that’s my take on happiness.
Hope it helped you, or a friend, or their pets. Tell me in the comments.
Now since there’s only 24 hours in a day an so many days left in my life, imma bake meself a strumpet. Cheers!

More info, more cake and still no lemon at Without a Lemon’s Facebook Page

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6 reasons why you fail at being happy by Danny Hefer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Danny Hefer

  Free roaming opinionist, Danny spends his free time roundhouse kicking life in the nuts and doing really weird startup thingies. Even if out of context it does sound kind of gross, Danny is the Lemon's daddy.

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