Can Trying To Be Happy Make You Miserable?

Can Trying To Be Happy Make You Miserable?

by Dr Emma Gray - 16th September, 2014

“There is only one success – to spend your life in your own way”

Part of the reason we are so successful as a race is our drive to improve and develop. We are always striving for the next thing, to be more, to be richer, thinner, healthier, younger and happier.

These goals create anxiety or pressure which motivates us to move forward, to improve and develop, so it is important to set these goals for ourselves without external pressures. They do however, need to be both achievable and measurable, so that there is a clear point at which the goal is reached, the anxiety/pressure/stress can be allowed to dissipate and be replaced by a sense of achievement.

Happiness is subjective (personal and idiosyncratic) and thus very hard to define and to measure, so when setting this as a goal we need to be careful that we are not just setting ourselves up to fail i.e. exposing ourselves to the anxiety, pressure and stress with no hope of this being replaced by a sense of achievement.

Setting happiness as a goal is not a bad thing, especially when you consider all the benefits that research has shown to be linked to it (better relationships, health, sleep better, more creative, view more positively by others), and the fact that it is not just a sign that things are going well but a factor that will increase the chances that they will continue to do so. But there are potential pitfalls so when setting happiness as a goal, consider doing the following:

1. Have a clear personalised definition of happiness and what this will actually look and feel like for you.

2. Identify what will make you happier then identify achievable and most importantly realistic steps that you can follow to achieve your goal

3. Measure your progress against your personalised vision and not against someone else’s: the subjective nature of happiness makes the social pursuit of it complex.

4. Do not make the pursuit of happiness your primary objective – the pressure this will create will undermine what you are trying to achieve. Make this one of many goals including being a good friend, wife/husband, mother/father, developing interests /having experiences that expand your horizons.

5. Be realistic, do not strive for perfection ;consider the theory of Yin and Yang – It is impossible to be happy all the time and actually in order to be happy we need to also experience unhappiness; the existence of one relies upon the other.

If you are suffering with any of the issues discussed in this article and would like to seek professional help then you may find our Problems Pages helpful.

Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleagues once described me as a natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.

Read more about my approach to counselling here...

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