I’m on a path to happiness. To be honest, I hope I never really get there. I can hear you now, “why would you not want to be happy?” Well, you see, that’s the thing. Of course I want to be happy. That has to be what we’re all striving for. And that’s what I’m striving for too. It’s the whole reason I’ve begun to make some serious changes in my life, in order to actively seek out the things that make me happy. But what I have realised is, that happiness is not the end point or the goal. Happiness is in the process. There is pure joy to be found in simply seeking out the things that bring balance to your life.
So, the other day I realised something. And not just a little thing, either. Something momentous. I was standing in my kitchen, just washing some dishes. I was smiling to myself. And I thought to myself… “Do you know what? I’m happy.” I wondered where this little gem had come from. How I got to this point. And it was simple. I have begun to find pleasure in the journey. I have begun to find pleasure in the choices I was making, because I am making choices. Life is no longer something happening to me. I am living a life of my own making.
To many people this might seem like an absolute no-brainer, and they may be surprised that life can even be something that just happens. I think that is something in itself that just happens. We get into routines with work, maintaining a household and even sometimes with our hobbies and social lives. But routine doesn’t force us to question, often doesn’t inspire and keeps us well and truly ensconced in our comfort zone.
I’ve often heard people say – and have no doubt been guilty of this myself – “I’ll be happy, if …” Linking your happiness to a particular event occurring is, in my opinion, setting yourself up for a fall. You are telling yourself (and probably others around you) that if this doesn’t happen, then you can’t be happy. Consider all the sportspeople who spend their entire lives chasing that cup or medal. What is it that will actually lead to happiness? Is it the silverware or is the joy in the process, in the chase? My money is on the chase.
Psychological studies have repeatedly shown that each person has a set position of happiness, and despite ups and downs, when this position can fluctuate, we all eventually return to that set position. For different people this might be generally positive, or slightly depressed. This is known as our hedonic adaptation. So while you might think that winning the championship might bring you everlasting joy, it probably won’t. After some time you’ll most likely return to that set point. Of course you can look back and think about a job well done, but your general demeanour will be that of your hedonic adaptation.
It’s easy to say then that we shouldn’t bother having goals if we’re ultimately not able to achieve greater and lasting happiness. But that’s not what this is about at all. If we can enjoy the steps along the way, then the joy comes from the process. If the steps along the way aren’t enjoyable or don’t align with our values, then maybe the end goal is not the right one. But gaining happiness from the process means that if we stumble at any of the hurdles along the way, then the time and the effort aren’t wasted, even if we don’t achieve that for which we set out.
Now, I’m sure you can imagine this process in terms of financial goals or career goals and most certainly sporting and fitness goals. But let’s think about this on the level of relationships. It’s not about the goal of sitting in a rocking chair next to our partner when we’re eighty. If it’s that for you, then you’re forgetting all of the things that lead to that moment in time. It’s about all the little moments that you’ll hopefully remember when you’re sitting in that chair. If it’s not about that for you, then you won’t get to that point.
That moment when you wake up to your partner cuddling you. That moment when your partner reads the little note you put in with her lunch. When you thought you’d try that cheap wine and laughed about how terrible it was. When your partner cried and you held her close. When you listened and understood. When you were patient. When you fought for each other. The little conversations when you should both be asleep but you can’t stop talking. The hard conversations that just bring you closer together. Without these moments, the end point isn’t going to make you happy. By if you revel in each moment, take joy out of the little things, the pleasure, the pain, the triumph and adversity, then you’ll already be happy, even if you don’t reach that rocking chair.
So what does this mean? For me it means that there is no final point to which I am striving. Yes, I have many goals for my life. And achieving them is very important to me. But my little realisation the other day tells me that I can be happy – and I will be… I am. Not because I have reached some incredible pinnacle of life. But rather, because I am only a little way up the mountain and I can not wait to tackle the next climb.