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Stop Chasing Happy

Updated: Apr 30

Emily DeMalto, MS LPC

April 29, 2024


Sunday evening is here. Saturday was great, you felt happy, at peace, but the feeling is creeping away as the hours slide by. You’re sitting on the couch running through the to-do list that you felt like you really made a dent in,but you just added several more items. You're thinking about how you’re going to fit the items into the week and complete your work responsibilities (your calendar is packed), and that pilates class you swore you weren’t going to reschedule this time; oh and text your friend back that you meant to reach out to at the beginning of last week… You look at your calendar and feel the creeping sense of dread. You’re exhausted. You must be doing something wrong, you’re not feeling happy right now. Now you’re stressed. It can feel easy to slide into a spiral in which we end up researching buying some land and living commune style as a homesteader. When will you get a break, when you can slow down? And the answer is, never. Not unless you make the choice. In a world whose pace is never slowing and it seems like the list of expectations is ever growing, how do we balance trying to find the “feeling happy” moments with all of the expectations and demands we experience? 

We talk about feelings as moments, something that will fade and be replaced by another, temporary. We recommend embracing emotions as they come, embracing the natural ebb and flow into another. How is trying to be happy, when happiness can be so temporary, a sustainable goal that doesn’t end in seeking disconnection and escape. In chasing happiness, are we doing ourselves a disservice? Are we creating a never ending cycle of trying to find and trying to hold on to a feeling? We become fearful of other emotions, of losing “happy”. 

Let's think about the function of emotions. What do they even do? While it might be hard to believe, emotions developed with us as an evolutionary tool. Emotions have a two fold function. First, they convey a message. Second, they motivate you to act. For example, If I walk into the street and see a car, I jump out of the way. If we put that process into slow motion, I saw something, felt fear, understood that the message is you’re in danger, and was motivated to take action by getting out of the street. This process often happens automatically and without us realizing. Another example, I get into an argument and slam the phone down (or click the end call button really hard, this is much less satisfying). Later, I feel guilty, “I really shouldn’t have done that”. I call the person back and apologize. The guilt communicated that I recognized my actions were not congruent with how I like to communicate and I was motivated to reach out and repair any damage done. 

Now, let's define happiness. Per the Oxford Languages Dictionary, happiness is a feeling of pleasure or having a sense of confidence or satisfaction. Now, when we think about the things in life that make us happy, what comes to mind? Certainly not many of the things in life that are essential but not necessarily invoking joy. Doing my taxes certainly doesn’t feel like sitting down to a margarita and plate of guac on a perfect spring afternoon, but here we are, doing taxes anyway. In fact, taxes may make us feel uncomfortable. You can replace "taxes" with anything really and that feeling might be bored, anxious, worried, annoyed, etc, and here is where I drive home the point. Chasing happiness has a snowball effect. When we’re chasing happy we become avoidant of our other feelings and we condition ourselves to believe that not feeling happy is a bad thing. 

In the pursuit of happiness, we often overlook the intricate experience of emotions that color our lives. By reframing our approach we can feel more like we are floating in a gentle current, rather than fighting against a sudden riptide. Emotions serve a purpose—they convey messages and prompt actions. Instead of fixating on a singular state of happiness, we can embrace the full spectrum of emotion. By acknowledging and understanding each emotion, whether it be joy, fear, or discomfort, we can navigate our lives with greater authenticity and resilience. So, rather than striving for an elusive happiness, let's strive for emotional intelligence and acceptance, finding fulfillment in our feelings. It's not about escaping from reality but engaging with it fully, knowing that true contentment lies in embracing the full range of human experience.

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