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What is Happiness Anyway?

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

Can we ever truly be happy? Isn’t happiness just a superficial and fleeting feeling? Why is happiness so elusive? What is happiness anyway?

The short answer is that true happiness can be experienced when we are living our life aligned with values. That sounds simple enough, right? Then why are so many people dreadfully unhappy? The truth is it’s not so simple. It’s so easy to become jerked around by our thoughts and feelings telling us what we want to hear like, “If I can just get that new thing, then I’ll be happy.” or “I need that job title or else I’m a failure.” Many people come to therapy feeling depressed and saying things like, “My life doesn’t have meaning or purpose.” or “I don’t feel happy anymore.”

For a lot of people, the pandemic has removed distractions, forced us to slow down, and has shined a metaphorical spotlight on how we are living our lives. As a result, we’ve realized that we really aren’t as happy as we thought we were. We’ve realized that we aren’t engaging in meaningful and purposeful living. This is actually great news and I’ll explain why!

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” Nietzsche

Science has shown us that we experience significant distress when our actions are not aligned with our values. Now that we recognize that we aren’t satisfied with how we are living our life, we are one step closer to making the necessary steps to true happiness- that sense of fulfillment and contentment.

The first step to living a happier life is to identify what really matters to you. What do you want to stand for in life? What do you want to do with your one precious life? How do you want to treat yourself, others, and the world around you?

Values aren’t just abstract qualities that we’d like to embody. Values are the desired qualities of physical or concrete actions or behaviors that we do as well as psychological actions. In other words, they describe how we want to behave on an ongoing basis. They are our compass giving us direction and guide our life’s journey. Values are your heart’s deepest desires for how you want to behave- how you want to treat yourself, others, and the world around you.

It’s important to clarify your values so that you can use them as an ongoing guide, inspiration, motivation, and guidance to help you do the things that give your life a sense of meaning or purpose. To help you clarify your values I offer the following exercise:

Imagine that one year from now, you are looking back at the difficulty you are facing today. Imagine that you have handled it in the best possible way, behaving like the person you really want to be, deep in your heart. From that perspective, answer these questions:

  • What qualities or strengths (e.g., courage, kindness, compassion, persistence, honesty, caring, supportiveness, honesty, integrity, love, commitment) did you live by or act upon in the face of this?

  • How did you treat yourself as you dealt with this?

  • How did you treat others that you care about?

If you’d like to work with us to help you maximize your human potential for a rich and meaningful life, while effectively handling the pain that inevitably goes with it, then please click here or call us today at (630)601.3460 to schedule a free, 15-minute consultation. Learn more about how we can help with depression, anxiety or grief and loss.



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