I don’t know about you but I’m sick of being told that I need to be happy.
My Facebook feed is filled with articles about the seven things I need to do right now to be happy. Or articles saying this is what happy people do and I should do it too. And sure, it all makes perfect sense, but then I just sit around wondering why all these articles sound exactly the same, and if it’s all that simple, why can’t we all do what we apparently should be doing?
The pursuit of happiness is an internet craze. It’s not enough to have food in our bellies, a roof over our heads and a high speed internet connection. We want more. We want to be happy, motivated and loved. We don’t want to be miserable, lazy and hated. We constantly chase after the good, while simultaneously trying to avoid the bad, and our lives pass us by in a massive conveyor belt of experiences that are never quite good enough (and if they are, they never quite last long enough).
Honestly, I have no idea what bloggers mean when they talk about happiness. No one defines it. No one says ‘when I say ‘happiness’ I mean ‘this, this and this’, and so it’s up for interpretation. And the interpretation seems to be: Happiness means feeling good all or most of the time, and feeling bad rarely, if at all.
It’s time to call bullshit. This constant need to feel good all the time is getting old, and it’s exhausting. The worst part is it doesn’t even work. The more we chase happiness, the more elusive it becomes. Eric Hoffer once said, “the search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness”, and science agrees 1.
Think about it: despite advances in the treatment of depression more, the rate of depression continues to rise 2. Why? One suggestion is that the way humans are biologically and culturally set up to cope with crappy life events is inadequate3. Society doesn’t teach us how to cope effectively, so we fall back on human nature, and human nature screams “avoid!” and we all nod our heads and say ‘yes, yes, suppress the anxiety, what a great idea! Hand me another Xanax’.
Everything good in life is going to be accompanied by some kind of physical or emotional discomfort. This is not news. To get a nice derrière you need to work out, and working out is uncomfortable, especially if you’re unfit. To fall in love you need to open yourself up to some disappointing experiences – awkward first dates, guys who don’t call you back, and a girlfriend who you thought was different but ends up cheating on you anyway. And to feel happy, you’ve got to be open to feeling bad.
The problem is human beings hate discomfort, and so we avoid it, and we end up sacrificing the very things that make our lives worthwhile.
What don’t you want in your life? What have you tried to get rid of it? Did it work? If it did – that’s great! If it didn’t – maybe it’s time for a shift in perspective. Maybe it’s time to start living life how you want to live it right now, regardless of how you feel. Maybe you don’t have to get rid of anything. Maybe you really can feel the fear and do it anyway.
Simple right? Problem solved. Uh, not quite…
The problem isn’t that we don’t know what to do. We know. Oh we definitely know. We are inundated with what’s, and blog posts and self-help books telling us exactly what to do. The problem is that we don’t know how. We don’t know how to deal with the thoughts, and emotions, and problems that stop us from doing what it is we need to do to live a fulfilling life. We don’t know how to feel the fear and do whatever it is we want to do.
The Yellow Brick Blog is about how to take action to change your life for the better. Plus there will be science. Because science tell us what works, why it works, and how to implement it. The Yellow Brick Blog is not about sitting behind your computer screen emotionally masturbating to motivational posts and lists of things you need to do or should do. This blog is about doing.
I’m not an expert. I don’t have a sob story that somehow makes me qualified to tell you how to live your life. I’m just a girl who happens to read scientific articles for fun on Saturday nights.
How you live your life is up to you. I’m just going to make some science-based suggestions. So welcome. Benefit from my geekiness. Someone has to.
- Eric Hoffer as cited in Ford, B. Q., & Mauss, I. B. (2014). The paradoxical effects of pursuing positive emotion. In Gruber, J. & Moskowitz, J. T. (Eds.), Positive Emotion: Integrating the Light Sides and Dark Sides. Oxford Scholarship Online. ↩
- Prescriptions for antidepressants have increased over time (see this report), and rates in depression appear to have been rising since the early 90s (see Compton et al., 2006 and Hidaka, 2012). This isn’t surprising, if more people get depressed than more drugs will be prescribed to treat them. But it suggests that there’s something driving rises in depression that isn’t being addressed. ↩
- Hayes, S. C., Luoma, J. B., Bond, F. W., Masuda, A., & Lillis, J. (2006). Acceptance and commitment therapy: Model, processes and outcomes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1–25. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2005.06.006 ↩