I, like so many people, have had moments in my life where I’ve been extraordinarily unhappy. And, to escape these moments of unhappiness, I did what most people do — I looked for things that would make me happy.
This, ironically, had an adverse effect.
It was like quicksand.
The harder I fought to find happiness, the further I would fall away from it.
One day, I stopped looking for happiness altogether.
And, instead, changed my focus towards looking at the things I thought were making me happy, but weren’t.
It wasn’t until then that I truly began to notice a change.
Here are some of those things…
Relying strictly on others for my happiness.
Relying strictly on others for your happiness is a sure-fire way not to find it.
While your friends, family and lovers should ultimately bring more happiness than sadness to your life.
They, themselves, are not responsible for your own individual happiness.
The danger in looking to others for your happiness is that you place your happiness in something external. And, if you’ve ever tried to wish the rain away, you know it’s impossible to control the external. By taking responsibility for your own happiness, you regain control and I think that, in and of itself, is a very happy truth.
Confusing happiness with pleasure.
Fucking in a steamy shower is pleasurable. Getting higher than a kite is pleasurable. Binge-watching Netflix on a Monday night is pleasurable.
And, while pleasure is lovely, pleasure is not happiness. Happiness tends to be a longer lasting deeper feeling of satisfaction, whereas pleasure is a momentary intense feeling that comes from something external — hot sex, good drugs, addicting series, etc.
To use a metaphor, if happiness is a slow burning fire, pleasure is a short blazing flare. The problem with pleasure is not in the feeling but rather where we are receiving the feeling. Again, something external. When the external things that cause these intense feelings are gone, so is the pleasure.
In my unhappiest moments, I’ve confused pleasure with happiness. I’ve looked strictly to pleasures like sex and drugs and alcohol to fuel a feeling I thought was happiness but what was actually pleasure.
With that said, I think pleasure is quite beautiful and something all of us deserve much of. But, this must be coupled with happiness. Pleasure without happiness can spiral into something quite nasty.
Becoming overly obsessed with productivity.
When I was first building Honey Copy, I was obsessive about productivity.
Every minute of every day had to be spent learning, writing and working.
While to a certain extent this helped me grow my tiny but mighty creative writing shop into a very lucrative business, it made me extremely unhappy.
When I would sleep in past my 5 a.m. alarm clock (because God forbid I let myself get another hour of rest) I would beat myself up for the entire day. When I wasn’t getting to the gym six days a week, I would call myself lazy.
When I wasn’t reading a book a week (who the fuck reads a book a week?) I was questioning how dedicated I was to becoming a writer.
While being more productive isn’t inherently bad, allowing productivity to remove the happiness (and even pleasure) we gain from small everyday tasks can be debilitating.
Prior to the productivity hacking bullshit, I adored working out and reading… but when I forced productivity into the mix… I removed the satisfaction I gained from these activities.
I think it’s wildly difficult to be happy while constantly measuring, tweaking and improving every aspect of your life.
Be productive in some things. But, don’t be productive in everything.
Believing that happiness is something I am supposed to feel all the time.
Simply put, it’s ridiculous to think you will feel happy all of the time. Some days are shit. And, on those days, it’s okay not to be happy.
Distracting myself from sadness.
Part of understanding what happiness is, is understanding what happiness is not.
In fact, some might argue the big hairy ambiguous term that is happiness is more easily defined by defining what it is not.
What we do know is that happiness is not sadness.
Knowing this, I think to fully relish in our happiness, we must also fully relish in our sadness.
These feelings can’t be mutually exclusive.
If we want to fully know and enjoy happiness, we must fully know and enjoy sadness.
So, when you are feeling sad on those shit days I just mentioned, give yourself permission to feel it fully. Don’t look to pleasures to distract yourself. While mindless scrolling might numb the pain, it’s but a bandaid on a gaping wound that needs to be seen, known and heard before it can begin to heal.
Spending far too much time on social media.
Social media has allowed humans to advertise the top 1% of their lives all of the time and because of this, subconsciously, we’ve begun to believe we have to feel on cloud 9, 24/7.
It’s fucking hard to be happy in your very ordinary day-to-day life when you’re looking at people drinking pina coladas, going sky-diving and playing with tigers three hours out every day.
When you can, if you can, limit social media to an hour a day.
Perhaps even less.
Comparing my life, work and success to others.
A tiger and a shark are very successful at what they do.
But, if you were to throw a tiger in the ocean or a shark in the jungle, they’d look like jackasses and would quickly die.
Tigers don’t have fins or gills. And, sharks don’t have claws and lungs. Because of this, we can’t compare the two.
If we were to compare the two, one would always be a failure. You would never compare a tiger to a shark so don’t compare yourself to someone else living a different life and working a different career where success is both defined and measured in much different ways.
This will almost always lead to deep unhappiness.
Partaking in shallow work over deep work.
It’s easy to forget that much of our happiness (or lack of) is derived from our work.
There is something that feels tremendously good about completing a difficult task that adds value to the world.
The times I’ve been unhappiest, I’ve been very busy doing easy shallow work that doesn’t bring me much joy instead of much harder work that makes me feel accomplished.
I very rarely feel happy when I’ve spent an afternoon in my email inbox. But, I feel great satisfaction when I’ve knocked out a 2,000-word article for Honey Copy or a thoughtful email for Sticky Notes.
Whether it be in your job or outside of it, find hard challenging work that adds value to the world and that brings you great joy; do more of this work.
By Cole Schafer.
I don’t always write about happiness, I also write about exciting shit that makes you sweaty… like sex, love and drugs. Anyway, give me your email.