We are unintentionally conditioned from when we are young to believe that our happiness is dependent upon our accomplishments. When we got As on our tests, we were told we were worthy; when we scored a goal in soccer we were applauded; when we did our hair well or wore a nice outfit, we received attention. There is nothing wrong with doing well, achieving our goals and feeling pride in doing so. However, it’s not sustainable to always be doing our best. We are not always going to be achieving something others deem worthy of applause. We have to learn to clap for ourselves.
Somewhere along the way, our brains translated the extrinsic validation we received after “doing well” to mean we were happy. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we were happy. And there is nothing wrong with validation, relationships are based on validation and growth. Sometimes we worked hard for the right reasons and achieving our goals made us genuinely satisfied. But other times, we chased external validation and praise to fulfil us, to tell us we were whole, to prove to others and ourselves we were doing alright.
What I began to realize as I got older is external happiness, happiness based on things going well for me, is fleeting. We reach one goal and we’re artificially happy for a while. Living off the high of other’s praise we’re able to convince ourselves that we’re on the right track. But like all highs, it's temporary. It’s only a matter of time before we’re stuck in our own heads wondering why we still feel unfulfilled. We assume it’s because we did something wrong, or something is wrong with us. We think we haven’t accomplished enough; we aren’t worthy of lasting happiness yet; we have to work harder. We tell ourselves lies like: when I make six figures, that’s when I’ll be happy, when I have a baby that’s when it’ll all come together, when I find the perfect partner, when I fit into those jeans, that’ll be the moment I’ll surely be content. And then we’re off pursuing the next goal. The one that will most definitely bring us peace. As we grow into adults these goals transition from getting As in math to having nice kitchens and getting an office with a window or having kids who get As and score soccer goals.
Here’s the thing, chasing validation outside of yourself will never make you truly happy. Happiness based on other people, conditions or things is unreliable, it can always be taken away. What matters are the things inside of you. The things that will be with you always. The love you have for yourself. The inspired actions that make you, you.
We have to learn to be content even when we aren’t moving mountains. To be happy when the most we did all day was get out of bed. This is tricky, balance is key. After two months of doing nothing but watching Netflix and chilling, we likely aren’t going to be feeling our best. Balance is difficult to learn, but is important to living an authentically happy life. To complicate matters further, what is a good balance for someone else may not be good for you. Life is about trial and error, constantly tweaking variables so you can feel your best. Being willing to recognize when something that served you in the past is no longer serving you.
When you start basing your happiness on you, when you start listening to the voice deep in your gut, you’ll start chasing the things that truly set your heart on fire. Things that make your face light up.
At first, it’s hard to know what your individual soul really wants from what you’ve been conditioned all your life to value. True happiness doesn’t demand anything from you. You are content with just that moment, you aren’t looking for another moment to chase. Happiness is different for everyone; I don’t have a step by step guide for what will make you truly feel happy. Write a list of the times you have felt genuinely happy in your life. This list will remind you that your happiness never came from things looking seemingly perfect on the outside. Your happiness came from being present and open and connected to yourself and to the moment. Let that be a guide as you move forward.
What I can tell you is that the more you love yourself, the more moments you’ll experience that will make you feel truly alive. Truly present in your life. Those are the moments that you’ll carry with you forever. That is your happiness.