(Un)Happy Parallels

I’ve been absurdly busy the past two months or so. There have been some weeks1Read: nearly all of them where between the amount of time I’m at work and the amount of time I’m working from home, I near 65 hours of work. I’m in the process of getting my book published, which was an unexpected, though incredibly welcome, demand on my time. Combine that with the fact that my commute is now 15-20 longer each direction, each day, and the fact that I’m trying to spend a portion of my evenings2Only three times a week so far, but still…more than I’ve done for the past seven years or so. trying to get back into shape, and I’m very busy.

Putting all of that time into other things is fulfilling for each of those items3Except commuting. Because fuck that.. What it does, however, is take away time from writing on my own. I write for this blog, I occasionally write for Twenty Something Bloggers, and I am working on a novella length piece on my own time? I have written four posts, one post, and one chapter respectively for each of those items in the last 30 days. Expand it out to two months and things don’t get much better (9, 2, and 2). I recycle a decent amount of content from my old blog to here, but that’s not going to last forever. I write on Sundays where my fiancee goes to church or to play board games, but that’s just a limited amount of time.

There’s a statement I hear from optimists frequently. The concept that “happiness is a choice” and that “choosing to be happy changes our reality” gets trumpeted by optimists at all hours of the day. To believers of this mantra, if you’re not happy, it’s a you problem and no one else’s.

Throwing out situations where someone is unhappy due to an illness such as depression or a terminal disease of some kind4Both of which are typically excluded from the aforementioned motto for obvious reasons., I have a tough time believing this is true. Yes, those who are cynical by nature do have a difficult time finding happiness in their day-to-day lives. With that said, to say that you can be happy all of the time and change your own reality due to this happiness is a false narrative.

Let’s take a look at a common experience that most people will have in their lives — getting promoted at a job. The initial reaction to a promotion is typically one of joy. After all, your hard work is getting recognized, you’re free of the frustrations at the previous position, you’re likely getting more money (or at least the opportunity for it). There are many positives that come out of a promotion. At the same time, there will also be factors — increased responsibility, learning curve for new tasks, a new manager/subordinates, or new rules to follow, just to name a few — that can and will cause additional stress to you. This stress typically isn’t realized until a few weeks or more after your promotion5Unless the company you work for does a transition where you spend 50% of your time working your old position and 50% of the time working your new position. This puts the company in a great position, but mentally drains the person transitioning jobs. I’ve learned this first hand more times that I’d like to admit., leaving you with a honeymoon period where you feel like nothing can go wrong and you’ll always be happy.

Things can and will go wrong. The sooner you realize that in any situation, the happier you’ll be.

The secret to being happy is not changing your mentality to be a happier person. If anything, trying to do so will make both your happiness and your sadness more extreme. When those moments of happiness arrive, you’ll be hyper-aware of them and overjoyed that they’re around. But when those moments aren’t around, you’ll take their absence harder. I’d make the argument this actually leaves you worse off than if you’d changed nothing about yourself in the first place.

The true secret to happiness, in my opinion, is preparation. Anticipate that things in the world around you are going to go to shit and that you can do nothing about it most of the time. For the times you can do something about it, plan. If you can control things, prepare for the worst with your actions. When you plan and prepare with the worst in mind, you’re less likely to be significantly impacted when it does come around. And when everything goes right, the happiness you feel will be stronger than you could have ever imagined.

Front page image credit: Marina del Castell on Flickr. Used under a Creative Common License.

(Un)Happy Parallels

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7 thoughts on “(Un)Happy Parallels

  1. Eh, I lean toward the happiness is a choice option. But, I think your last paragraph illustrates why. I have family members that when things go wrong, it is personal and literally someone is out to get them and there is no planning or preparing- just the fault of others. You may not view it as choosing happiness, but you are choosing to be active and that can amount to the same thing.

    1. I do think that preparation is completely a choice. That said, just because you’re choosing to prepare for the worst and the best does not dictate whether or not you’re going to be happy by itself. I do feel that the choice to prepare for bad things to happen does make you happier, but it does so without forcing you to be happy.

  2. I can see both sides of this. I used to be a very easily stressed, irritable person. At one point, I just told myself that I was going to be more positive. Over the next couple of years (it took awhile), I pushed myself to see the best in bad situations and it’s resulted in an overall happier me.

    I’m not sure that I “chose to be happy” but I definitely made a choice on how I reacted to events and that led to a happier outlook. I do think preparation is important and “preparing for the worst” can definitely lessen the blow if things do go to shit… but you have to make sure that PREPARING for the worst is different than EXPECTING the worst. I have friends who literally just expect everything to be awful and that ends up resulting in a lot of unhappiness. I’m by nature a pessimist, but I’m happier when I at least try to view events in a positive light.

    (I may have been talking in circles there, idk. I napped recently so I don’t think I’m fully awake)

    1. It makes a lot of sense, so don’t worry about the tired. You bring up the difference between preparing for the worst and expecting the worst, and that’s really a key point to my argument that I didn’t do the best at making. To be a cynic and expect the worst is an incredibly harmful mentality to have. That said, to not be prepared because you think everything is going to go well is foolish in its own right.

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