Why You Might Not Be Having a Happy New Year
In light of the start of the year, many of us are considering how we want to live our lives just a little bit better. Some call it a resolution, others a goal, a fresh start, or call it nothing at all; regardless, most of us are considering this a time of self-improvement.
What I hear most about what people want out of a new year is to “be happy”. Is that your goal? Once upon a time it was mine too. Doesn’t it sound wonderful? The world would be a better place if we were all happy, wouldn’t it?
The problem is, happy seems to be a very difficult thing for many of us to be. Between the stresses, physical pains, and heartaches of life, there doesn’t seem to be much room for happiness. There are also those nagging extra pounds, that condescending coworker, and that relationship issue that won’t leave you alone. It is no wonder many resolutions are forgotten by February, life just gets in the way.
Is there a bright side? Sort of. We might have happiness all wrong. Why are we trying to be happy, anyway? There is a widespread belief that being happy gets rid of our problems. It doesn’t. Life will still be full of disappointments, hard times, and bad breaks. If something bad happened to someone you cared about, would you advise them to just “be happy”? Happy isn’t a solution, it is a feeling. We prefer happiness because we like that particular feeling; it feels good. But there is still need for sadness, for anger, for loneliness. All feelings are equally valid. They teach us things about the world around us, and about ourselves. For example, the moment you notice you are jealous of a colleague’s progression at work, you have learned something about your values and your insecurities. When an unplanned guest comes over you feel embarrassed by how messy your home is, you might be motivated to take better care of your space. If you happened to see the Pixar film Inside Out, you would be familiar with the helpfulness of sadness.
We do not have to rely on happiness as a shortcut through our hard feelings. If happy is a hard or unrealistic place to get to, can we aim for other good feelings? Peace, comfort, gratitude, and curious are just a handful of other emotional goals. Take a bath, read a book, say some affirmations out loud, talk to a friend. Whatever it is that is positive that might help improve your mood even a little, can you commit to that? Just like happiness is not permanent, our more uncomfortable feelings can be interrupted and changed. While there still will be times when the low moments get to you, I encourage you to practice being kind to yourself, learn what you can, and love yourself through the rest.
Try this: Keep a feelings journal. At the end of every day, try and think back to what happened throughout the day. What did you feel like? How do you feel now? Notice your range of emotions, both the ones you liked and the ones you didn’t. Look for trends and patterns – what did you learn? Are you typically angry on your Thursday evening commute home? Do you notice you feel happier on days when you had a full night’s sleep? At the end of a week or two, commit yourself to doing one more thing that makes you happy.
Shadeen Francis, LMFT is a couple and family therapist in Philadelphia, specializing in sex therapy practicing in Council’s University City office. Request an appointment with Shadeen today.