Stop trying so hard. The message came to me in meditation. I was trying so hard to reach a specific goal, but fell short of my expectation. I fell into a deep sadness. I thought reaching that goal would make me happy.
But the real lesson is that happiness doesn't teach us how to be happy. Sadness does.
The pursuit of happiness focuses on only one side of the equation. It skips over sadness, grief, frustration, disappointment and failure. All of the tough emotions that shape our daily lives. Happiness is a nice thing to feel, but trying to keep it gets us into trouble.
We place this unspoken pressure on ourselves to be happy. If we have a bad day, or something unexpected happens, we feel like we have to force ourselves to cheer up and see the positive lessons in the situation.
The problem is that we don't allow ourselves to be true to who we are in each moment. We feel an enormous amount of pressure to get — and stay — happy. We see self-help mavens pumping out mantras and positive posts (myself included) that make their lives look super glossy, as if they have it all figured out.
But the thing self-help teachers and wellness experts don't seem to talk about? Our struggles. And they're a prerequisite to being human, so whether we talk about them or not, they still happen.
When those teachers and experts only show one side of the equation, the rest of us fall victim to thinking we are the ones broken, unfixable, and others have it figured out. We stay stuck, forcing a smile to exclaim we are happy, when inside we're confused, lonely and sad. Whenever you look outside of yourself for happiness, you will set yourself up for unhappiness.
Comparing yourself to others is the fastest way to stay unhappy, so do yourself a favor and just stop thinking you need to be like them or that you need to have it all figured out. The problem is not with you. The problem is in the pursuit.
When we put others on pedestals, we separate ourselves and feel disconnected. This also prevents us from feeling happy. Don't let the positive posts fool you: there's always more to the story. I have a best-selling book on happiness and I've been called the joy guru, but none of this would have been possible if I didn't embrace my shadow side.
I use to think that sharing my struggle would somehow discredit me, that I would become irrelevant, or disregarded. After all, as seekers, don't we want to learn from people who have already made it? The ones who have it all figured out?
But the more vulnerable I became with my writing, the more connected I felt to my readers.
The secret is that no one has it all figured out. We're all living the best way we can, and for today that's enough. We're all mirrors reflecting one another so we can learn more about our own selves.
If you're struggling to be happy, maybe it's your belief about happiness that's keeping you from being happy. Here are five beliefs to break up with if you want to be happy.
1. If you're sad, you can't be happy.
Give yourself permission to be real. Be honest with yourself and express your true nature in each moment. If that means you're sad, let yourself feel it. Fully embrace the emotions in each moment. That's the true essence of a happy life.
When you can be in your life fully, moment to moment, you will rise above any challenging setback unscathed and proud of the little victories.
2. Positive thinking will make you happy.
Each second of life is an opportunity to learn, discover and embrace a piece of you yet to be nourished. You don't have to power through it with positive thoughts. Sometimes positivity can blind you from the lessons you need to learn.
Although I consider myself a happy person, I have moments of sadness, fear, depression and insecurity. I can't think my way out of those moments. I have to address the emotions and feel my feelings. Overshadowing them with positive thoughts would do us a disservice and prevent us from learning the lessons.
3. Happiness is a destination.
Life will do its part, and will present opportunities to help you grow. Your part is to show up for the lessons.
Yes, happiness is exciting and joyful, but it's not all it's cracked up to be. If we were happy all the time, we wouldn't know what we truly have. We actually need sadness, depression, tears and vulnerability to be able to appreciate the joy-filled moments.
When we can fully go into our loneliness, grief, sadness and pain, we can come out stronger, smarter, wiser and more connected to our true selves. So instead of trying to be happy, be present.
4. Rock bottom is bad.
What I've learned is sometimes we get knocked down lower than ever, so we can rise up higher than ever. I've hit rock bottom and it was the biggest blessing. It was a wake up call and opportunity for realignment to my true self.
The pain, addiction, sadness and grief we experience are nothing to be ashamed of. It is an opportunity for personal growth and self-understanding. If you're going through a difficult time right now, you are not alone. You are being groomed for greatness. Don't miss the opportunity by forcing yourself to be happy. Instead give yourself the ultimate gift of living a fulfilled life by being present in your journey.
5. Other people don't struggle as much as you.
Have you ever noticed your favorite song lyrics, the best-selling book or the memorable movie are drenched in emotion and epic battles of self-discovery? There is always pain, but there can be beauty in breakdown. And that is the real happiness.
If you're alive, you will struggle. Take comfort in knowing that part of being human is understanding and feeling all range of emotions. You can live your life fully by going into each moment and embracing it. That is real happiness and how to live a fulfilling life.
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Shannon Kaiser is the best-selling author of 5 books on the psychology of happiness and fulfillment including The Self-Love Experiment and Adventures for Your Soul, Joy Seeker, and Unshakable Inner Peace Oracle card deck, and the forthcoming book Return to You. She has a B.A. in journalism and communications from the University of Oregon. As an international life coach, speaker, and retreat leader, she helps people awaken and align with their true selves so they can live their highest potential.
She's been named top 100 Women to Watch in wellness by mindbodygreen, alongside Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kris Carr and Gabriel Bernstein, and was listed as of the freshest voices in mental health and wellness by Chicken Soup for The Women's Soul. She's been named one of Entrepreneurs Must-Follow Instagram Accounts for Inspiration and Top Facebook Accounts for Daily Motivation by Mind Body Green.
Her website Playwiththeworld.com has been names top 75 Personal development websites and top 100 self-help websites by the institute for the Psychology of Eating. She's an international life coach and author mentor, and a full time world traveler with a home base in Portland, Oregon with her best friend, her Golden Retriever Chance, who she flew to China to Rescue.