What They Didn’t Tell You About Happiness
6 min read.
Have you heard of the happiness equation?
Happiness = reality – expectations.
When I first learned of this definition, my logical mind loved it. Finally, a simple formula for me to follow to be happy!
But my limiting beliefs kicked in and told me, You’re not Doctor Strange. You have no power in manipulating your reality.
So I accepted my current reality as a constant variable and lowered my expectations in order to maintain a positive measure of happiness. Not expecting anything good or bad lowered my chances of being disappointed. It was great.
But when I reflect back over the past few years, I realized I may have been happy to some degree, but being boxed into my reality chipped away at my confidence and I ended up being very passive in all areas of my life.
What they didn’t tell you about happiness is that your reality is not completely outside your control. Yes, there are many things in this world you can’t change, but there are also many things that you can.
It seems our culture has become comfortable with convenience, ease, and instant gratification that we’ve lost the motivation to set a higher standard for ourselves and those around us. It’s too much work! We can’t let this laziness beat us into submission and contain us in a reality that we will not accept. We can change it. And it all starts with being OK not being happy for a bit.
It’s Impossible to Maintain Happiness
People seem to care a lot about happiness. Being American, it’s even written in our nation’s official documents. And being Chinese, the Chinese character for ‘happiness’ is basically on every red pocket, restaurant, and forearm or bicep.
Because of this constant pressure to be a priority and to have it as our end goal, there are some people out there who let their kids do whatever they want, as long as it makes them happy. While they are good intentions, it’s potentially irresponsible. It sends a message that if there is even a hint of unhappiness in what you’re doing, that it’s immediately not worthwhile, or not meant to be.
Plus, what if we don’t know what does make us happy? Or worse, what if what makes us happy is not all that helpful for our own growth? Smoking weed, binging Rick and Morty, and playing video games makes me really happy, but that’s probably not going to be sustainable for my future. Sometimes we have to do things that don’t particularly make us happy in order to afford us the feelings of joy, fulfillment, enthusiasm, or optimism in other areas of our lives.
It’s understandable, it hurts to be sad and unhappy. We don’t like feeling bored, unfulfilled, hopeless, or anxious. We’ll do anything to avoid experiencing those negative feelings as much as possible, cause they suck.
I’m not suggesting that everyone go on a negative emotion binge or to dwell on them to the point of complete submission. I just want awareness that every individual life is meant to be a roller coaster. You’ll have highs, people will be up and lively, but people can also be down and out and that’s OK. Don’t ignore those feelings and try not to suppress those in others either. Doing so only robs each of you in finding your inner truths.
Have High Expectations, Bend Reality
The phrase “bend your reality” might be triggering for the realists because it sounds “woo-woo” and nonsensical. Again, none of us are magicians.
But how would it feel to believe that you don’t have any impact on the reality around you and of those you care about?
We’re not just lifeless objects floating along in this world. We make an impact and create waves wherever we go, whether we believe it or not. Thinking that you can’t make any changes to your reality will restrict you into a life where you give up control to all outside forces. That can’t be what happiness is, right?
This is the flaw in this “happiness equation” that I found. The lazy side in us will take the easy route for happiness, just letting life happen to us or for us with no expectations for anything more than that.
Instead, we need people who aren’t afraid to have a negative sum once in a while, to have greater expectations than their reality. In the short term, higher standards you set for yourself will create a better reality in the long run. You might just have to trudge through some physical, emotional, and mental sh*t before you get there.
Lower Expectations Result in Lower Standards
Because I didn’t believe I could change my reality, I took the passive approach and kept my head down instead. I adapted to everyone around me. I avoided conflict with my parents, with my teachers, with my managers, with all of society. Any result I would get was only to be expected. I didn’t want to ask too much of both myself and others for fear of being disappointed for not getting what I want.
I learned the hard way that that was isolating and a sure way to be ignored. I was glossed over for promotions, swiped left by women, given up on hopes and dreams because I didn’t believe in myself. I was more than capable and was moving things along on the outset, but because I couldn’t see that within myself, no one else was able to either.
I know there are many others like me out there, pressured into a certain way of thinking about themselves and their perspectives on happiness, their reality, and their expectations. And the world is hurting because of it.
The World is Hurting and it Needs You
Humans are hurting because we’ve lost the safe space to express what we’re feeling. To tell her you’re worried about something. To tell your parents you appreciate them. To tell him you’re lost. To tell your boss you don’t know what you’re doing. To admit to ourselves that there’s still so much we don’t know and to seek to understand before disagreeing with someone. To be comfortable with what it means to have a higher expectation for your reality.
Of course, we shouldn’t ever expect anything from the universe, no person or thing ever owes you anything. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have needs, wants, and desires for things to be better.
Maybe we just have to redefine happiness for ourselves. Is it necessarily something you must have at all times? If so, maybe you can come to terms with where you are now and that’s completely fine. Not all of us has to be change makers, there’s really no judgment in that. There are a lot of things outside our control, so sometimes it just comes down to adopting a more accepting perspective.
If there is something within your power to change though, then I’m sure you understand that you’re going to need a certain level of resiliency to create that change. And I admire you for that. I admire you for wanting to set a higher standard, for being willing to get down and dirty, to struggle through unfamiliar territory, and for being unreasonable enough to make the world adapt to you rather than try to fit into it.
If you’re that person, be sad, be angry, be disappointed with your current reality and do something about it.
The First Steps to Developing Emotional Resiliency
There’s no better teacher than life and its experiences, but it doesn’t mean we can’t prepare for the best and worst of those experiences in our own study. For that, I’ve collected 11 exercises for you to practice in your day-to-day to develop more resiliency and a thicker skin with intention.