The Elusive Happiness Problem

Goals and Dreams, Relationship Design

happinessIn October of 2006 I finished writing and defending my Dissertation, which was the final step in completing my Ph.D. in Family Therapy.
This was a huge milestone. One that began six years earlier when I decided to begin graduate school.
Completing school was something I looked forward to for years. It required a lot of sacrifice along the way, both personally and from my family. But when I walked out of the room as Dr. Allan, I was ecstatic.
It was such a big deal that when I finished, we threw a party that lasted two days. All kinds of friends and family joined in the celebration. After everything was over, I was sitting with my wife a couple of nights later and without warning, the bliss that came from attaining what I had worked so hard for, disappeared.
I had always believed that when you attain something you work hard for you’d be happy. That it would somehow alleviate an emptiness inside.
For the six years I had put in for this accomplishment I felt that something was missing from my life – something that all the reading, writing, working, and studying were not providing. I believed it was only a matter of time before that “missing piece” would find its way into my life.
It seemed clear to me that the reading and studying were necessary to progress through grad school and graduate. Graduating was necessary for fulfillment. And fulfillment was necessary for happiness.
That’s logical … isn’t it?
But shortly after reveling in the accomplishment, the happiness vanished and the feeling of emptiness returned. I was confused and afraid. If I couldn’t be happy now, when everything I worked for was realized, what chance do I have with lasting happiness?
I told myself that the low feelings were temporary, the kind that naturally follow high points in life, but as the days and weeks went by, the happiness didn’t return.
I realized that I needed to view things differently.
I needed a new way to look at things, and a new way to do things in my life.
So I embarked on a journey to explore the idea of happiness.
Here’s the main thing I’ve discovered in my journey thus far.
The dominant question for most people isn’t what’s my purpose or why am I here, it’s what’s wrong and how do I fix it.
This question shapes our worldview, our parenting, even our relationships.
We are in a fix it society. As if everything going wrong in the world can be “fixed.” Enter the world of happiness and unhappiness.
If you’re unhappy, then it must be because you don’t have the latest, greatest thing on the market today.
Watch any amount of TV and you’ll be bombarded with this idea.
When it comes to relationships, this type of thinking runs rampant.
How often do you hear or say “When are you going to…?” or “You always…”
Arguments in marriage come along due to focusing on what’s wrong.
It’s important to realize that in committed relationships, roughly two thirds of the problems are unresolvable. Two thirds!
With the amount of issues in marriage (and life for that matter) that aren’t resolvable, how do you create a meaningful and happy life?
It all boils down to choice and focus.
First, choose to stick it out. Relationships are work, there’s no way around it. But the conflict and struggle of marriage only increase it’s value. Work and life are struggle at times as well. But the things in life that you fight and work for have more inherent value due to the fight. Hang in there.
Second, what you focus on – grows. This philosophy is true. If you focus solely on what’s wrong, everything will appear wrong.
Don’t believe me, watch only the national and local news and tell me how this affects your worldview. Better yet, watch CNN or FOXNews for 24 hours straight (especially in this upcoming political season). You’ll likely think this whole world and everyone in it is evil incarnate.
Instead, focus on yourself and your contribution to your relationships. Ask yourself this: would you want to be in relationship with you?
One of the things I’ve loved to do since I was a kid is snow skiing. And one thing I like to do while skiing is ski through the trees. The powder’s better, it’s quiet, and the added risk increases the adventure.
Want to know the key to skiing successfully through the trees? Don’t look at the trees! Instead, focus on where you want to go between them.
This principle applies to life as well. If you focus on where you want to go and your role in the process, by default you’ll avoid most of the pitfalls and issues along the way.