All pictures taken in Iceland.
Why you shouldn't search for happiness but rather redefine, understand and accept it.
I consider myself to be a relatively positive human being. I am not happy all the time - obviously, nobody is - but I tend to smile a lot, laugh a lot and look at the positive rather than the negative aspects of life. I love life, with all its flaws and rough patches. I have always been like that, no matter how dark the times. I can't remember a single day in my life, on which I woke up in a bad mood. Heartbroken, yes. Shattered, yes. Angry as hell, yes. But never in a bad mood. Not like in randomly pissed or annoyed, without having an actual reason.
I grew up with a mom being a ray of sunshine. She is the kind of human who always smiles at everyone, reacts to unfriendly people with kindness, someone everybody likes. She is the one that laughs so hard at a joke that tears run down her face. And she always laughs the loudest. I have never woken up to my mom being in a bad mood. Or angry. I woke up, every day, to her smile. I guess that shaped me, a lot. I remember that she once told me (during puberty, where anger was a dear friend of mine) that there was absolutely no reason, ever, to start a brand new day in a bad mood since, well, it hadn't even started yet. She said that the attitude you get out of bed with is what ultimately defines your entire day, so she always chose (and chooses) to be positive when the sun starts rising
I don't believe that happiness is nothing but a choice, though. Furthermore, I also don't think you can go search for it and will, someday, randomly find it hanging around in someone else's backyard. In my opinion, the only place you will ever stumble across happiness is in your heart. And once you grasp it, you will realize that it was always right there, waiting for you to see and accept it.
We need to redefine happiness.
I think this generation's problem - which is growing bigger, as social media is growing bigger - is the misconception of it. Being happy, feeling grateful - it's a trend. It goes hand in hand with Gucci bags, Maldives luxury resort stays, and even more so, the likes you get for sharing photos with the said bag in the said resort. We're told that we only have to buy yet another self-help book and then we will find it - the big ol' gratitude. If we sign up for an online class on "how to meet your goals" or go to some web academy for "confidence," we will come out at the other end feeling ultimately... happy. Buy, read, participate, mind-map, journal, list and so on, it all will be the solution to our problem. I know that my opinion is on the unpopular side since I believe all of this to be untrue, merely a new scam of taking our money while giving us a false ray of hope to turn our life around for the better.
Expect nothing. Appreciate everything.
You see, I don't believe you can force yourself to be happy. Not by reading countless self-help books, not by journaling a daily gratitude routine, not by enrolling in a course that teaches you how to be more positive. Why? Because it's all about searching for happiness out there, not within you. It's about convincing yourself that you will be happier than before, once you finished the book, class, podcast. But just because you bought something or read something or listened to someone who told you what to do and how to do it - it still won't change your mindset. Writing down five things that made you happy today is not the same as actually being happy in the very moment.
It all comes down to the definition.
We have to seek the things that matter - not a superficial rush of endorphins we more and more mistake for happiness. It comes down to accepting life as it is, ups and downs. It comes down to genuinely seeing things, without having to search for them actively. But let's start at the beginning:
There is a significant difference between happiness, positivity, gratitude, and, most importantly, contentment. With social media on an infinite rise, with so-called influencers mainly teaching us how to be jealous, nonstop shopping, never satisfied, always on the run and yet constantly smiley, we collectively got the wrong idea of what positivity and happiness mean. It's like a disease, spreading out via the wealthy and privileged to think that happiness is this wild outburst of emotion, endorphins going wild, the feeling of being overjoyed. Like so many things these days happiness has to be an extreme.
A friend told me about her biology teacher who shared the following: If we would continually release endorphins like we do when we are newly enamored, it would kill us. Nobody can live with a nonstop raised pulse and accelerated breathing. So if the kind of happiness we sell to each other is the one to strive for would be a constant in our lives we would a) be dead by hormones and b) never even realize when we are indeed happy since there would be no distinction anymore. You only appreciate sunshine if it rains, as well. You enjoy warmth even more after having been cold. So no sadness, no anger - no happiness.
But the soft, underlying sense of contentment does not seem to do it for us, anymore. It's not ENOUGH to be considered happiness. We are letting ourselves be talked into the necessity of feeling ultimately thankful, day in and out, let others convince us it would automatically lead to a more positive and fulfilled life. So what I think our generation has to learn, again, is that the only thing that will lead to a truly positive life and mindset is contentment. That subconscious feeling of things being ok the way they are. The thankfulness for being able to breathe, keep warm, eat, share, laugh, dance, listen, see, talk, and feel - without having to write it down first.
We are more in charge of our happiness than we are allowing ourselves to be.
Happiness is fleeting, momentary, nothing that you can continuously feel. Gratitude means to be thankful for something. Positivity is a state of mind, seeing the positive over the negative, making the best out of unpleasant situations. But contentment, that is what we should strive for - at least in my opinion. It's being satisfied with what you have and NOT continually seeking more, seeking better. It's being okay with life, with the ups and downs, the days where you can't be thankful or don't want to be. With not always being on cloud nine, with anger, doubt, and sadness. With being human.
Happiness comes from contentment.
A personal example:
Yesterday, I felt genuinely uninspired. Unmotivated. Annoyed by how incapable and lazy I was. I could have forced myself to see the positive or told myself that "failure only means learning, learning means growth." I could have sat down and tried to see the little things, write a list of incidents to be grateful for. I didn't!
Instead, I wallowed in an armchair, lit candles, read a little, studied a little (and hated on it), procrastinated, and then made dinner while swearing to myself that I would give up cooking, once and for all. I was feeling blue without being able to put my finger on why I felt that way, had a bad day, emotionally, and yet... I cuddled my cats, and I smiled at my husband, I enjoyed reading my book and felt quite happy that dinner turned out way better than expected. I gave in to having a shitty day, impulsively dyed my hair, put on a face mask at nine in the evening and realized one important thing: I was still content. I live. I breathe. I have a roof over my head. I don't need to write down the fact that I liked the sunset or the way Pommes (my Norwegian forest cat) blinked at me or how a cloud formation made my heart skip a beat. I just saw all that, took it in AND allowed myself to be pissed, anyway.
I dare to state the following: Happiness comes from contentment. If you are genuinely content with the life you are living (IN GENERAL, not in detail), then that's all you need to live a positive life. It helps to acknowledge that constant adrenaline rushes are no expression of happiness, it's simply adrenaline. That positivity is a state of mind achieved by not "giving too many fucks." The less you care about having a bad day the sooner it will pass. The sooner you are back on track with enjoying the good stuff that is happening around and to you.
To me, the thought of having to sit down every morning and come up with five things I'm grateful for instead of... just being thankful is bizarre. Keeping an open heart and mind for the little things, at all times, while simultaneously not stressing over moments where you wallow in self-pity, are heartbroken, sad, or experiencing other utterly human emotions is crucial for being content.
Sitting here, writing this, with the landscape outside my window being snowy, illuminated by a pastel winter sun, I feel the warmth on my skin and my heart is filled with love. Yesterday, the weather was exactly the same. I didn't pay any attention; I didn't care. And I don't beat myself up over it. Yesterday sucked, today is fantastic. Both days had their ups and downs. While one day had more downs - the next one made up for it with more ups. Yesterday, I went to bed with different feelings (consciously) than I will today, but subconsciously I am always the same: Content. And that makes me a positive person, I guess.
I think those daily affirmations might indeed be helpful for some but for most they aren't the solution. Reciting to yourself what's right about this moment, that everything will be fine - that's just covering up life’s negative aspects. Why? The bad is just as much a part of life as the good. As much as you shouldn't feel sad all the time, there is no need to continually feel happy, either. Positivity, from my point of view, comes from accepting life as it is.
So how and where do you find contentment? What does it mean to redefine, understand, and accept happiness to live a more content and positive life?
Until now, you might find this article not very helpful. There are no actions for you to take, no lists to craft, no book or podcast suggestions. It's just uncomfortable facts about the "social media" generation, and happiness nowhere to be found. So is there something you and I can do, after all? A place to search for, an approach we can execute? I believe that happiness - as in contentment - cannot be found outside of us, it needs to be discovered within. It comes with accepting life. With not just looking at beauty but actually seeing it. By being right here and right now, grateful. Not only at night, when journaling, but in the very moment.
If we redefine happiness from being a momentary feeling of utmost joy to constant subconscious contentment, then we can find ourselves in a more positive state of mind, overall.
We have to understand that accepting life means:
- not judging yourself for being down when you are
- not thinking of yourself as unhappy because of experiencing feelings of sadness, anger and alike
- allowing yourself to be disappointed, jealous and other negative emotions
and all that without giving up on the fact that, at the same time, being in love with your life can still happen.
So the most important takeaway might be this:
Happiness starts and ends with you. Nobody can find and achieve it for you. The sooner you accept yourself, learn to take not just the flaws of life but also the flaws of being human - the sooner you will find happiness within you. Trust me; you can be content. You might be tired of reading this, but the key to a more fulfilled life is acceptance. Acceptance is followed by contentment, and with contentment, you will ultimately find what you seek:
I had some fantastic women read over this text for me before I published. Who shared their thoughts with me, their personal experiences and stories - for that, I am TRULY grateful. Ina, Lea, Miriam, Marie, Svenja, Nathalie, Julia, Maren (thank you especially much for correcting the grammar) & Monika - you are amazing!
We're in this together!
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