How do we as a society define happiness? According to Wikipedia, in most European languages, the term happiness is usually linked to either a state of mind, or to a life that goes well for the person leading it.
In other words, to be happy, most people achieve it when they find a certain level of success along life’s path. If you’re successful enough, you’re more likely to believe you’re happy.
Still, happiness is something we all work hard to achieve.
For many of us, we put happiness down as a point in time.
We’ll be happy when we make XXX amount of money.
We’ll be happy when we have a particular house.
We’ll be happy when we receive a certain job or achieve a certain title.
We’ll be happy when we can buy a certain car, wear certain clothes, or go to (or send our kids to) certain schools.
All of that is based on success. We have to achieve to believe.
But there’s a problem with living life under those terms. We fall into a trap known as hedonic adaptation.
When humans reach a certain goal, their expectations change. They rarely increase their happiness level because they no longer want their original goal. Their goal switches, giving their minds something new to chase. That puts the pursuit of happiness on a treadmill, always desired, always just out of reach.
Think about your past goals. As Gen Xers, I’m sure you have your share of things you’ve achieved and things just out of reach.
How about that goal of making a million dollars? If you’ve achieved it, has it made you happy?
How about that dream of marrying the perfect mate. Is it still working out how you planned?
The house in the suburbs, the best school for your kids, the car of your dreams – did any of this bring you one step closer to ultimate happiness?
Or is your happiness still just out of reach?
Happiness – The Quest
Now I’m not suggesting you’re unhappy. Maybe you’re happy – just no longer content. You have questions. You can’t stop asking: What’s next?
There are different levels of unhappiness.
For some, they are never happy. No matter what the goal and how many they achieve, nothing is ever good enough. You know these people. You may even be one.
I stopped being that person years ago when I sat in the audience listening to one of my first mentors. He said:
If you’re not happy today, you’ll never be happy tomorrow. Happiness is being content with what you have today, while setting realistic goals for more tomorrow. You have things to pursue, but they don’t hold you back from enjoying what you have today.
Stop Playing The Comparison Game
A lot of unhappiness is caused by the comparison game. And it’s difficult not to play in our modern times.
There’s always someone around you that has a little more. A bigger house. A better job. A closer relationship. More time to pursue interests. More money. Blah, blah, blah.
The comparison game gives us a model to look up to. We have someone we love or look up to setting the standards for who we are. We like them. We want to be them. And in order to do that, we have to do what they do. Ever tried to keep up with the Joneses? Yep, we’ve all done it a time or two.
Yet we all have our own unique situation. We all have our own self-standards, wishes, and desires.
What looks happy from the outside almost never is. There’s almost always something holding each of us back. A relationship that’s gone sour and impacts our choices. A lifestyle choice that’s marred our decision-making process. Financial obligations that make us hide certain things from the public eye.
Then Comes Midlife
Suddenly, things change again. You face an empty nest. A divorce. A death. A cancer scare. A pink slip. A foreclosure. A best friend who tells you to go straight to hell.
How are you supposed to be happy now? All of the good stuff is in the past.
You’ve already chosen a spouse to marry and build a family with. The family’s built. The kids are out of the house. And you’re menopausal! No more babies in your future!
You’re stuck in your career. You’ve heard how difficult it is for someone YOUR age to find a new job. How would you ever start up a new career?
You can’t move to a new house, a new city, a new state, a new country … could you?
Your happiness depends on your goals. It depends on your success!
I think that’s where men and women differ. I think that’s why we’ve gotten this midlife thing all wrong.
Women Aren’t Driven By Success, We’re Driven By Pleasure
My career was booming. I’d achieved a very high level of success within my industry. And people were starting to notice.
Of course, I wanted more. So I signed on with a coach who promised to take me to the next level. (And to be fair, he did.)
I sat in the audience with a dozen or so men. Yep, no women in my group. Just me and the guys.
Our mentor started outlining a plan.
“Sometimes you’ll have to work twenty-four hour days. Sometimes you won’t go home for a week. This takes a lot out of you when you’re in the mode. You can save your vacation time for later, and then spend time with the family. Plan your vacations for your off time. Then give it your all during peak times. That’s the way to success.”
I laughed. “Who picks up the kids from preschool? Who bakes cupcakes for the bake sale? Who schedules dinner with the family on Sunday? Who plans the birthday parties? Who makes sure the laundry is done?” Yep, you get my line of thinking.
I asked a few of the questions … and was returned with a couple of dozen eyeballs that looked at me as if I’d just gotten off the spaceship.
Priorities, they said. Where are your priorities? You have to set goals. Nothing can stand in your way.
A guy might be able to go into twenty-four-hour mode and not think twice about it. He’s goal driven. And more than likely, his wife picks up the slack.
But as a woman? The thought chilled me to the bone. I get work is work, and personal is personal. But as a woman, the two are always intertwined.
That’s because we rarely set goals where pleasure isn’t a part of the equation. We do things to please ourselves or others. We don’t see the end unless pleasure is derived from the process.
Take something as simple as taking a bath. To a man, it’s a function. They bathe to get clean.
But as a woman, we derive pleasure through the entire experience. We block out time. We make sure the kids are in bed. We lock the door so we have time to ourselves. We light candles. We add a touch of scent. We place a large, plush towel nearby for when we get out. We add in soft music. We turn the lights down low. We grab our favorite books and read the night away.
Most men would read that paragraph and laugh … unless they have a “goal” in mind! 😉
Move Past The Traps
Yeah, you say. I see that. But I no longer get pleasure in anything.
And that, my friend, is why you’re stuck. That’s why you’re questioning everything.
You’ve been taught to be goal oriented. You’ve been driven by goals for so long you’ve forgotten your softer side. Your pleasure side. The one that says to do things that bring you pleasure, not that achieve a goal.
And I’ll be quite honest with you; it’s difficult to break this habit. You’ve had 40 or 50 years developing this one! You’ve been influenced by society, the media, those male-driven classes.
I’m telling you to put those bad habits away. Start living life your way! And listen to all the women that have figured it out before us:
“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.”
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
Pleasure means different things to different people. Let it influence you in a big way.
Get unstuck by doing something just for you. Do something because you choose to do it, not because it’s on your goal list you’ve kept inside for years.
“Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.”