The Happiness Paradox

I have a problem. I think I may be too happy. It’s a first world problem, I admit that. But it’s one I never thought I’d have. People are constantly doing things, saying things, buying things to make themselves happier. And those people include me. So how did I end up in this place? Can happiness be a bad thing? Is it actually possible to be too happy?

My life hasn’t always been this way. I spent years caught in what felt like a trap of depression (and probably anxiety although I couldn’t see it at the time). I have often battled with my weight, size and body confidence. I have hated my job. I have been bullied at work. I have been kept awake at night by financial worries, worries of ill health, worries of how cruel the world can be. I have had friendships and relationships breakdown. I have grieved for the loss of people in my life.

It is often said that happiness and gratitude go hand in hand. In an article for the Huffington Post, Katie Hurley attributes gratitude as a key contributor to, “better relationships, better physical health, increased happiness and better coping skills.” I began to put this to the test part way through 2014, after a messy breakup and in a particularly challenging period in my life. Despite the shitstorm going on around me, was it possible for me to still to feel grateful? Absolutely.

Since then gratitude has become more of a way of life for me. I recognise it in my meditation, when I’m sat having a coffee, in my commute to work, when I’m working out, when I’m eating, when I’m amongst people (both those who make me feel good, and those who challenge me … for the lessons they are teaching me). And so the end result, in great part thanks to gratitude, is increased happiness.

But now I have this problem – too much happiness. Let me explain.

Happiness pictureI recently took a trip to Thailand. My aim was two fold; 1) chill out with my sister, have a good time, see a new country, meet some new people and 2) put one of my goals to the test – the goal to be able to work from anywhere in the world with a laptop, mobile phone and wifi connection.

 

I had an awesome time. Aim 1 was definitely met. Box = ticked. The problem lies with aim 2. It’s not that I didn’t achieve the aim, it’s that I think there’s a problem with this goal. Because what I realised as the plane touched down at Brisbane airport and I was home, is that I’m so happy here, I’m not sure I really want to be anywhere else anymore. It’s like I’m too happy here, at home.

It got me thinking about whether or not this happiness is standing in the way of other goals. And it turns out it is. I’m wonderfully happy as a single 33 year old right now. But one of my goals is to nurture a little family tribe of my own and guide small people to be bigger people and (if it’s their path in life) make the world a better place. I feel really ready to begin to grow that tribe … but that’s not possible as a single 33 year old. So do I compromise my happiness to pursue my goal? Or do I change the goal.

Same with the ‘work from anywhere’ goal. Do I compromise my happiness and visit places where I learn, see and explore when I’m actually happier at home? Or do I change the goal?

It’s not that I’m not open to change … learning, growing, changing is in my DNA. I thrive on the stuff. And it’s not that I don’t acknowledge that this is very much a first world problem. I do. It is. It’s the fact that I never thought I’d have this problem. I never thought being too happy could be a thing. I thought happiness was an absolute. Not a paradox.

So what next? Or where to from here as the Aussies like to say. I’m looking forward to the challenge of thinking this one out. Of meditating on these dilemmas. I’m aware that I live a very fortunate life. And I’m very grateful for all of the wonderful delights that my daily existence brings. Perhaps this is the challenge of true gratitude – to maintain that grateful heart even when the good stuff, the overflowing bucket of happiness, begins to feel a paradox.

 

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