Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project discusses obstacles to happiness, and how you can get past them.
If you’re doing a happiness project, it’s worth spending a fair amount of time thinking about…unhappiness.
Although it’s helpful to focus on the positive, to count your blessings, and to remind yourself of what makes you happy, it’s also very important to pay attention to what’s undermining your happiness.
Unhappiness, although less pleasant than happiness, is a worthy emotion. Of course, sometimes unhappiness is caused by something we can’t affect – like illness or a job loss – but often it points to places where something isn’t working, but is within our power to change. Maybe your daily life doesn’t reflect your values. Maybe you need to put some distance between you and a happiness leech. Maybe you’re not living up to your expectations for yourself. Maybe you’re not getting enough sleep. (Note: ordinary “unhappiness” isn’t the same thing as “depression,” which is a serious, urgent condition that requires expert intervention.)
When I was making the decision to switch from law to writing, I was prompted to act by unhappiness – unhappiness inspired not by working in law, which I enjoyed, but rather by the pain of not pursuing writing. I remember that around that time, I read a line from Juvenal: “An inveterate and incurable itch for writing besets many, and grows old in their sick hearts.” A sick heart! This resonated with me so deeply that I knew I had to give writing a shot as a career.
So ask yourself – right now, what’s an obstacle to your happiness? Or to think about it another way, if you could wake up tomorrow with an issue magically resolved, what would you choose? (A factor in your own life, not global warming!) It might be big, it might be small.
When you think about unhappiness, push yourself to be specific. If your answer is, “I hate my job,” try to pinpoint the problem. Are you bored? Do you dread your commute? Think the work is of no social value? Have conflicts with your boss or a co-worker? Find it constantly encroaching on your private life? Frantic with the fear of losing your job? Feel unappreciated? Etc.
If you think, “My kids drive me crazy” or “I don’t feel good about myself” or “I feel overwhelmed,” ask why and how. When you identify a problem very specifically, it’s easier to spot possible solutions.
For example, as part of my happiness project, I realized that I hated nagging, and I hated being a nag, and yet I was doing a lot of nagging. When I zeroed in on this issue, I came up with a long list of strategies to try to quit nagging; okay, I have to admit that I haven’t quit nagging altogether, but I nag a lot less. And that makes me happier.
So ask yourself: Right now, what’s an obstacle to your happiness?