The Happiness Curve
On paper, you look at your life, and you say to yourself I should be happy, but I’m not.
We’ve all seen the happiness curve, right? The U-shaped curve that measures happiness in your adult life from your early twenties to your eighties. The bottom of the curve hits you in your forties. The moment when you are most likely to have a young family and enough of a career under your belt that you are responsible for the ‘team’ both at home and at work.
You are time starved, cash starved, possibly even fun starved, and you begin to wonder is this it? We’ve all looked at the curve and said to ourselves that’s not me, that’s for others. Right?
It happened to me, and if you are reading this, chances are it’s happening to you. We’ve all been there. On paper, everything is fine. You have a job. You are in a stable relationship. Some of us are lucky enough to have children that scream ‘Daddy!’ (or ‘Mummy!’) the moment you walk through the door.
Yes, life isn’t like it was in your twenties, and nor should it be. Turning up to work with a hangover three days a week isn’t a good look. That is for the folly of youth!
Before you judge me, this isn’t a question of my suffering against a back drop of the world stage (there is plenty of that kind of suffering to go round). No, this is your suffering. The details will differ, but you will ask yourself I should be happy, but I’m not.
I am here to reassure you; you can climb (no, heck — bound!) back up the happiness curve. And, the best news is, nothing has to change, and you don’t have to wait until your fifties.
The bad news; you have to recognise it starts with you.
What is happiness anyway?
Happiness means different things to different people. If you choose happiness as a destination, it is a fickle destination. We mistakenly think if I can just get that bigger house, I will be happy.
Ask yourself this; does your five year old (insert purchase here) that you bought brand new make you as happy today as the day you bought it? (Answer, probably not.) Or, is it just something you now take for granted and are already thinking about its replacement? (Yeah, probably.)
A lot of happiness comes from new experiences and learning new skills. By the time you hit forty that begins to wane, and it is replaced, by what you might call, drudgery. Every day is like groundhog day. This self-fulfilling self-loathing is part of the problem. It doesn’t have to be that way. I promise.
Make no mistake, I have been there. Everyone else was to blame for my unhappiness, not me. Pity the poor fool I was. No, I don’t deserve a bigger house, and no my business isn’t going to grow without any effort from me.
Tough love time
This is why happiness starts with you. Or rather, the climb back to happiness, starts with you.
If you haven’t got to where you want to be in life, then I am sorry, it is down to you. Of course there are things out of your control, but thinking you deserve happiness is misguided. Like most things, you have to work at it.
A life lesson from Grandad Frank
It was the early eighties. A time when Grandads had garden sheds thick with the smell of creosote. A time when garden tools had neat little slots demarcated by heavy marker pen outlines on home made plywood walls.
When I questioned Grandad Frank why he kept everything in such meticulous order, he said to me, ‘if you want something to look after you, you have to look after it’.
This lesson stuck and this lesson applies to everything in life. Look after your bike, and it will look after you. Look after your marriage, and it will look after you. You get the picture.
Like Grandad Frank’s shed, happiness is something you have to look after too. And, it all starts with you.
You probably feel like I am hard balling you, but I didn’t have anyone to metaphorically slap me round the face and tell me some hard truths.
This was a key realisation and turning point for me. When looking back at that realisation, it was a hard pill to swallow. It took me a while to appreciate it too, so don’t expect to read this and instantly start smiling again.
You have to work out what makes you happy, and that falls on your shoulders. If you need help, then The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin is a good place to start.
Me? Looking back at my life (funny how you can make sense of life backwards, huh?) I spotted discontent as early as my teens when I felt I stopped progressing with my art. Now I am a designer running a business, it took a while to actually figure out that in order for my business to actually grow I had to take some responsibility, to plan and to make it happen. (Yeah, ridiculous huh?)
Finding joy again
And that dear reader, is where I found joy. In learning new skills and opening my mind up to new opportunities to grow. Books and podcasts became my source of information to test new ideas out in the wild.
In discovering books, I discovered myself. In discovering myself I gained a new found confidence to embrace new experiences and push myself out of my comfort zone. (An introvert enjoying networking events? Yup, love it!)
I have attended events, made new friends and shared my story without shame. Deep down I want others to feel what I feel: life is wonderful, full of intrigue and an opportunity to learn and grow. I want others to stop the same self-sabotaging behaviours I had.
It may not be books or podcasts — it may be exercise, or learning a musical instrument — but know this: while you live and breathe, you are not destined to be the person you don’t want to be. If you got yourself there, you can equally get yourself out of there, wherever there might be.
Make a commitment to yourself
I know you can do this. I want you to feel the same thrill I do. Push yourself; for the journey is just as rewarding as the destination. The first step is acknowledging you are in charge of your happiness and it is the inside that needs to change, not the outside.
If you don’t believe me, I will leave you with this quote from Gretchen Rubin (who, you might say, is an authority on happiness).
After all my research, I found out what I knew all along: I could change my life without changing my life. When I made the effort to reach out for them, I found that the ruby slippers had been on my feet all along; the bluebird was singing outside my kitchen window.
You can do this. I know you can.