Have you visited a supermarket lately? As you stand in checkout lines, between the candy bars and miniature bottles of Germ-X, glossy magazines offer up ways to a better life. Lose 10 pounds, shock your man in bed, cook fifteen meals for only $10, a perfect trick to reduce frown lines, go on an all-juice diet. For men, the allure is hardly different: 10 days to perfect abs, how to grill the perfect steak, surprise your woman in bed, this protein powder will build muscle fast.
Material culture offers us many ways to be happy, primarily through material things or menial tasks. Yet, too often, these promises lead to temporary satisfaction and happiness with long-term disappointment. Hardly anyone is immune, not even me. We are all looking for happiness in one form or another, and we believe that happiness is hard to achieve. Because the niche of my blog is happiness, let’s to talk about thoughts, actions, and beliefs that make us unhappy as a whole.
1. Comparing Yourself to Others. Comparison is the mother of unhappiness. We all do, or have done, this at one point in our lives. For example, many of my Fulbright friends have graduated from Harvard over the past few days. Do I have a burning desire to attend Harvard? No, not really. I am happy for my friends, but watching the pictures pop up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds have contributed to a scathing self-assessment: “What am I doing with my life? Why am I not graduating from Harvard today? Was I supposed to go to Harvard? Wait.”
Your comparison may not be an Ivy League diploma. It may be a car, academic achievement, job, or salary range that the guy or gal next door has. The dangerous words, “If only…” may plague your mind. Rest assured, even if you had the car, job, salary, woman or man, and education of your dreams, a new set of problems would unfurl. Nature abhors a vacuum. Is this a call against self-improvement? Absolutely not. Rather, it’s a call for contentment, which ultimately leads to happiness.
2. Neglecting Community. As a Christian, I place a high emphasis on regularly attending church services. This is a form of community that provides support in the darkest of times. You may not identify as religious, and therefore, have little to no connection with a religious community. But do you have a community you can turn to? If so, have you connected with those around you? Have you reached out to those in your daily sphere of influence to make a friend? Have you called your mother?
For example, I spent a majority of my years in high school and about two years in college with a superiority complex. I believed I was smarter and all-around better than most people (say, 85%) I came into contact with. (If we attended high school or college together, and you’re reading this, I sincerely apologize). I thought I would do the world a favor and withdraw: Stick with my books, shun the world, and only participate in activities intelligent people would do. As I looked back on those years after I graduated from college, I was filled with regret. I missed so many opportunities to develop a new skill, meet new people, or simply release stress. I equated my loneliness and righteous anger to superiority. In the end, I only gained weight and lost hair. Plug into your local community, whatever that is, and find a sense of belonging.
3. Conforming. When I say that conforming leads to your unhappiness, read closely. I am a fan of order and behaving appropriately. Dress code for work says wear a tie? You should wear a tie. Instead, I’m talking about the conformation we place upon ourselves: What we eat, what we like to do, what hobbies we should participate in. Odds are, conforming may make you unhappy.
In addition to neglecting community in high school and college, I also placed many rules upon myself. I was allowed to like and do certain things (read, talking about reading, sleep), but I was not allowed to like and do certain things (not study, enjoy reality TV, stay up late). Nobody told me I wasn’t allowed to enjoy reality TV or stay up too late. I put that upon myself. I was known as smart and studious, and I wanted to keep the image. Was I fully happy? No, just partially happy. Now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve discovered that conforming to my own silly rules made my very uncomfortable. Up until a year ago, I wouldn’t admit that I enjoyed designer purses, Taco Bell, shopping, or TV. Guess what? I make beeline for Kate Spade when I’m at an outlet mall. I record episodes of Maury on the home DVR because the words “You ARE the father!” shock me every time. Taco Bell Grilled Stuft Burritos are delicious. Some time ago, I believed that because I enjoyed studying languages, literature, and subjects of a higher order, I wasn’t allowed to enjoy shopping or reruns of Say Yes to the Dress. In the end, if you want to take up kickboxing and motorcycling, but you’re a quiet kindergarten teacher, be free to explore.
In conclusion, there are many beliefs and actions that make us unhappy, and you may be surprised by how many people struggle, too. I have discovered that those I found to be most successful are not without their doubts and fears. I do know, though, that when you take control of your thoughts and actions, happiness will surely follow. There is no better satisfaction than finding that contentment has taken root and that joy has bloomed.