I’ve always had a terrible sense of direction. I have lived in Chicago for ten years and when someone stops me on the street and asks for directions, I tell them that I am from out of town to calm my anxiety and save face. The voice on my GPS has said “recalculating” so many times that it’s beginning to sound like an old familiar tune.
Although my life seems to be mirroring my GPS—recalculating—I don’t feel lost. For the first time in my life, I’m starting to really feel grounded because I’ve had a realization:
Happiness is not a destination.
I know, it’s contrary to everything we believe in, right? “Keep searching for happiness, you’ll get there”. If you put in the work, you’ll eventually be rewarded by crossing the finish line. Your prize? Happy.
We are constantly searching for happy, like your phone searches for a signal when you are just out of range. I don’t know one person who doesn’t suffer from the “if I could just” mindset. “If I could just find the right partner. If I could just move up in my company. If I could just lose ten pounds.” Then, what? You’ll be happy? Quite possible, yes. But, the pressure to keep happy up indefinitely is not attainable. Why do you think we have expressions like “money can’t buy happiness”?
I realized all of this the hard way.
My entire life was a series of “if I can just” and the mindset caused me to eventually miss my exit and inevitably hear my mental GPS recalculating.
Even when I was young, very young, I was always looking ahead. When I was 10 I couldn’t wait to be a teenager. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be in my 20’s. When I was in my 20’s, I wondered why I wasn’t married. When I was married, I wondered when I would have a house and have a baby. I was always stretching for happy and never pausing to realize I was miserable every moment of every day. The pressure of happy was too much.
And, after the dust settled and I looked back, I realized I had spent all those years hunting a unicorn.
I’m not saying happiness doesn’t exist. Some of us stay in happy for a long time, consistently. Some of us have more dopamine dancing around in our brains, naturally. Some of us practice gratitude as a way to let happy in. Some of us make a conscious decision to feel happy. But, others of us do not. Some of us feel sad a lot of the time. Not all the time, because sad is also not a destination.
I’m not a psychologist. In fact, the only human mind I understand is my own, and only just barely. So, I may be completely off base. But, this realization has freed me in some way and maybe it will free you, too.
At the age of 34, I had to recalculate. I found myself without my beloved dad. Without the comfort of my husband. Without the future I thought had finally begun to blossom into my present. I’ve had a lot of time to sit on an emotional teeter-totter between happiness and sadness.
For people with anxiety and depression, there are days when the sadness feels like it will never end. I have those days. Then I have moments of happiness. They burst open like a magnificent flower through a time lapse camera. Lately, I’ve been diving into them deeply and letting them wash over me. I’m trying to anchor those feelings and remember them for when the sadness rolls in. And the sadness always rolls back in. That’s okay.
By taking the pressure off to achieve happy, I’m really starting to see things differently. I’m not walking around trying to please everyone all the time. I’m setting boundaries, taking time away, and speaking my truth. And, you know what? It’s making some of my friends mad. And that’s okay.
I’m telling myself I may never have a family in the way I always thought that I would, and that’s okay. I’m pausing and saying “what do I need right now, in this moment?” It’s the first time I’ve ever considered the moment instead of chasing the future.
Those of you who, like me, have always kicked the happy can down the road hoping to stumble upon it eventually will realize, sooner or later, that happy is ephemeral. That means we get to have it sometimes and that’s pretty rad.
Happiness is not a destination. It’s just a stop along the way on our journey through many emotions.
Not all those who wander are lost, they are just recalculating.