According to a recent Harris Poll only one-third of Americans described themselves as “very happy.” In fact, most people have become so used to being unhappy that they are only vaguely aware of it. Living with unhappiness has become like living next to the airport – after a while you don’t even hear the roar of the engines. See if these descriptions sound all too familiar:
“Waking up is a drag since I never seem to get enough sleep. The kids are raring to go, however. They’re good kids, but sometimes I’m afraid I don’t handle their constant demands and frequent squabbling very well.”
“I’m always pushing to get to work on time. When I’m late, I get that dirty look from people in the office. Not that I care much about my job. Dealing with my boss is a pain because it’s always the same story: do more with less. The job demands go up every year, but the amount of help or salary that I get doesn’t correspond. But it’s a paycheck. Frankly, the best part of the workday is quitting time.”
“Being stressed at work puts a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach, which I usually fill with something that I know is bad for me, like a cream filled donut. Just what I need when I’m already overweight. The young kids in the office are all so skinny, which is just another reminder that I’m getting older. I hate that feeling.”
“I dream about retiring, and check the stock market almost every day. If it’s down then so am I because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to retire. If it’s up, I get the urge to go buy something to make myself feel better. But that good feeling doesn’t last long. When the Visa bill comes in I get the sinking feeling there’s no way I can get ahead.”
“I wish weekends would get here sooner. But lately I’ve realized that when it doing laundry, and chauffeuring kids to their activities.”
“I think exercise would help reduce my stress level, but who has the time? I just go home and have a glass of wine instead. Sometimes I have three or four, especially when my husband starts telling me what I’m doing wrong. Often it feels like I’m as appreciated at home as much I as I am work – not at all.”
“Usually there is something I like to watch on TV, if I don’t fall asleep in the middle of the show. Even though I’m exhausted, I usually have a restless night’s sleep. Then the alarm is going off and it starts all over again.”
If more than a couple of these comments strike a chord with you, then you’re languishing. That’s the state between flourishing and suffering. It means that you could have a higher level of well-being in your life.
You didn’t think that you’d just be getting along in life when you were growing up. Happiness seemed to be within your grasp back then. You knew what you wanted and you could see happiness shimmering in the distance. What a surprise that you have ended up feeling like the promise of having a happy life was just a cruel hoax.
When you were young, you looked at your parents and other adults and told yourself that you’d never end up like that. Now you are telling yourself, “This shouldn’t have happened to me.” You are right. This isn’t how you have to live your life. You can do better. Much better.
There are individuals who have learned how to be in love with life. Those who are flourishing have broken free of the trance induced by rushing through life, distracted by what’s urgent and missing what’s important. They’ve learned to overcome their fears and frustrations because they’ve developed the ritual of picturing positive outcomes and trying a variety of actions until they get there.
The folks who create “very happy” lives have come to realize that happiness doesn’t derive from how much they have, how much they eat or drink, or even how hard they work.
They know that what’s most important are great relationships – a loving marriage, fun friends, and collaborative coworkers. Their connections with people constantly grow stronger because they’re committed to generating an abundance of positive interactions to offset the occasional negative encounter.