"I want to live my life without stress and worries. I don’t need to be rich or famous. I just want to be happy.” ~Unknown
Have you ever set a goal and then become obsessed with it, making it the center of your life and arranging everything else around it? Did you think that only after you achieved your goal would you be totally relaxed and happy?
I’ve done this many times before.
Throughout my life, I’ve measured my happiness by my achievements. I pushed to get good grades in school, then focused on going to a good college, then getting a high-paying job.
However, even after getting all of those things, I was not happy. After attaining them, they felt ordinary, not as extraordinary as I thought they were.
The feeling of achievement was not that awesome after all.
I blamed my achievements for my dissatisfaction—that they were not tremendous enough for me to feel happy. So I thought I had to do more. I found a new goal, and I fell into the trap again. I always had something to pursue, and I could never feel happy until I achieved everything.
I abandoned other things in my life to pursue them. My excuses always were “I can’t rest right now. I am busy doing [x]. I will do that after I achieve [x]. I will be relaxed and enjoy my life only after [x].”
My [x] constantly changed from one thing to another. And I never let myself rest. I deferred my life to the future. Now was never a good time to enjoy life.
Even when I went out with my husband for a date night, I could never really enjoy my time. The feeling of guilt was always there to haunt me, to blame me for ditching my work, for being relaxed and lazy. Only when I felt miserable and exhausted did that guilt fade away.
That was when I realized something was not right.
The Problem with Measuring Your Happiness by Your Achievements
In the next couple days, I attempted to stop thinking of how to achieve my goals and paid full attention to how I was feeling. I took time out for myself, just to think about my life. And it was a painful realization that not only I did not enjoy my life, I missed out so many things in the process.
I Forgot the Ultimate Goal of My Life
Everyone wants to be happy, including me. My ultimate goal is to enjoy my life. But I constantly postponed my happiness while working toward other short-term goals.
I thought I was in charge of my life and my happiness, but I wasn’t. I let those short-term goals control of my life. As a result…
I separated myself from my loved ones.
In my vision of a happy life, I was always there with my family and for my family. But the hard truth was, I was not.
In fact, I turned them down when they showed concern about me. I felt like they didn’t understand my choices.
The whole reason I needed to achieve more was to be with them when they would be happy and proud of me. But that was not what they wanted. They wanted me, not my titles. Whenever I achieved something, they were happy for seeing me happy, not for anything else. A part of my happy ending was already with me, but I did not see it.
I hurt my own feelings.
As I was busy chasing the idea of my perfect life, measuring my worth by my achievements, I wasn’t fond of myself when I did not meet my target, I felt unworthy and I beat myself up. When I earned something, it wasn’t extraordinary enough to be proud of. I even beat myself up for not trying harder to receive something bigger.
I had a rough relationship with myself. I thought I was never good enough for my own love, or for anyone else’s.
It’s painful believing that you are unloved. I damaged my health. Because I was fixated on achieving my goals above all else, I ignored my body when she screamed for rest. I thought I only deserved to rest when I could no longer work, when all of my energy was gone. If I rested before my energy ran out, I thought I was a loser. A loser would not achieve anything.
I worked my way to exhaustion just to earn myself some rest. I physically drained my immune system until just a simple cold would easily break me.
Learning to Be Happy with My Imperfect Life
We all have the tendency to compare ourselves with others. I grew up believing life is a race, and I tried to be the fastest horse.
Social media has made this worse. We see other successful people and we crave their achievements. We think if we were as successful as they are, as rich as they are, as talented as they are, we would be as happy as they are. Only this isn’t the case.
The truth is that we are different people, we have different goals and desires, but those are not factors that determine our happiness.
Happiness is not the result of our effort. It cannot be measured by our accomplishments.
Happiness is the direction we choose and the way we live our lives. For some, happiness is to hear your mom’s voice on the phone every day. It may also be hearing all the funny things that happened to your one-year-old niece. Or the look in your husband’s eyes when you spend quality time with him.
Happiness probably can be measured by laughter. Deep down, happiness is love and self-love. It’s realizing how beautiful your life actually is.
Here are few things I have done to discover my happiness.
Meditation- It allows me to catch my breath, slow down, and look at my life with a totally different perspective.
I used to think I could never meditate because I could not sit still and not think of anything. But I started small with eight minutes a day, and I’ve surprised myself.
I finally learned that meditation is not about clearing your mind and thinking of nothing; it is about truly accepting who you are and not letting your wild thoughts control you. It helps me recognize and detach from my thoughts; to let go of all the chaos in my life.
Stay in the moment- After I started practicing meditation, I began to accept the moment more fully. It was not easy at first, as my mind was always wandering around, making up stories about my life. But as soon I surrendered to the present, I began to show up and truly live in the moment.
I no longer try to read a book while having lunch. I no longer think of my work while cooking or taking a shower. Instead, I try to taste the food in every single bite, to listen to different noises I make in the kitchen, to feel the warm water running over my body and let it wash off all of the stress and anxiety.
Needless to say, I have never felt more alive. I now recognize how beautiful and colorful my life is.
Start writing a gratitude journal- I end my day by writing a gratitude journal. It felt silly at first. But writing down all the beautiful things brightens my life and makes me appreciate them even more.
No matter how hard we try, we can never feel positive all the time. Life is brutal sometimes. Still, a gratitude journal helps me to let go of the negativities and feel grateful for the things I have.
Self-love affirmations- I start my day by telling myself how beautiful life is, and how much I love myself. Before I get out of my bed, I smile and tell myself, “Thank you for another wonderful day. I love you.”
When I put my feet on the floor, I thank myself and tell myself “I love you” again. I affirm this fifty times a day, and as a result, I’ve started to believe in myself.
It is eye-opening and life-changing to see how wonderful it is to have another day to live, to feel love and to enjoy life to the fullest.
“Today might not be perfect, but it’s a perfect day to feel happy.”
Happiness is not something to pursue in the future. Happiness is available right now, right where you are. When we stop chasing the shadow of happiness, we begin to recognize that all the things we need to to be happy have been with us all along.
I still set goals to pursue, but I no longer arrange my life around them. I’ve stopped comparing myself with others. I’ve stopped trying to become a person whom I think will be happy someday. And I now realize what truly matters to me.
I put myself in the center and I surrender to my heart, my soul. I let my heart tell me who I really am. I see, hear, smell, and taste like I never have before.
I enjoy all the quality time I have with my husband, I enjoy calling my mom every night just to hear her voice. I enjoy sitting quietly and listen to what my soul has to say.
Even though life has ups and downs, I now know all the emotions are different colors in my happy-ever-after picture. I appreciate that I can still feel them.
And I know my life is not perfect, but today is a perfect time to feel happy.
Written by Mai Pham
Mai Pham believes we can create our own happiness. She helps overwhelmed and frustrated people to ditch their stress and enjoy their lives again. Grab her free actionable cheatsheet: 5 Simple Tips to Release Stress and Bring You Calm in Under 5 Minutes and join her free 7 Joyful Days Challenge email course.