Pressures To Be Happy Are Making You Unhappy — Here’s How

Personal Topics

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt

Do you catch yourself scrolling through Instagram or your newsfeed only to be barraged with happy families on another Bali vacation, news stories about your college buddy’s start-up turned unicorn getting acquired,  endless motivational memes, or yet another engagement photo?

If you’re rather content with where your life’s at, and you feel completely secure within your own state of happiness and progress, the supersacharine imagery out of a Netflix original romcom might make you even happier. The thing is, it’s quite rare to feel 100-percent secure — so the constant influx of “Positive, positive, positive!” visual messaging might leave you feeling in a funk about your own life.

Are the pressures to be as happy as those around you leaving you with a feeling of dissatisfaction?  In part, this comes down to comparing yourself to others. “Sandra is thriving,” you think as you scroll past yet another photo of a friend on a white sand beach with a frozen drink in hand, mere days after her lavish camel-riding excursion in Marrakech. “I wish I could be that happy.” And BAM — it’s like all your energy is sapped. It’s almost as if we can’t accept that happiness can coexist with the often, well… kind of sh*tty parts of life we all encounter. Slowing funding. Spousal Arguments. Sick kids. Toxic Workplaces. Not being on vacation.

We see the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list and think to ourselves we better hurry to achieve before we age out of the Young Professional’s Organization.   And then there are the self help books and self care gurus blasting the newest marketing jargon and mega-billionaires like Beyonce and Jay-Z going vegan and we feel like maybe we’re doing something wrong. Today’s onslaught of headlines and heavily curated images of our friends online has caused the daily pressures to measure up to our peers to make us feel like we are failing at, well, our life.  

In the (particularly irreverent) book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, author Mark Manson hones in on this very point. “The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”

While I don’t necessarily believe striving for more joy and present contentedness are mutually exclusive, I do believe that coming to terms with negative emotions and experiences — that is, confronting them head on versus packing them away — can be largely beneficial. Frankly, I think the chase to be happy at all times by society’s standard is unrealistic and marketing exploitation, and that feeling peaceful should be our everyday baseline.

Burying or suppressing your negative feelings can actually contribute to worsened mental health and a negative physiological response in the body. Conversely, embracing said emotions could give you a sense of empowerment, in part because you know that despite the pain, it’s not going to kill you. In that way, you take some of your control back. Mindfulness with your more difficult feelings and experiences can help you cope better with challenges and trauma and in one study, showed that it also helped reduce prescription drug dependency.

My advice?

  1. Give your negative emotions some love. In other words, hug yourself instead of judge yourself. Try to understand where that feeling is coming from, and why. See what you can do to show it some patience and TLC. It’s kind of like ripping a bandaid off; it’s a little terrifying at first to confront a bad feeling (in lieu of sprinting in the opposite direction), but it’s so much better when you get it done.

  2. Next, find what valuable experience you gained from the hard situation.  Every difficulty comes with an opportunity to grow or can become the source of our life’s purpose.  What did you take away from the challenge that you will know to do better next time, or what part of your story can you share and advocate on behalf of others?

  3. Stop comparing. Listen, friend. Sandra has the same sh*t going on as you do. Yes, Marrakech looked incredible, and she had a seriously enviable husband and 2.5 children, but these are her highlights — and by no means a call for comparison. She’s not posting about her dad’s cancer diagnosis, her impending divorce, or the fact that she didn’t get the promotion she was vying for at work.

The idea that you can create an even better life for yourself doesn’t mean your current life sucks, or that bad things magically disappear with the right combination of vision boards, prayer, and self-development seminars – OK? While there’s no prevention from experiencing fender benders, a parent passing, a broken heart, delayed flights, and rude cashiers if you’re going to live life,  life will happen. It’s how you handle it that counts. Emotionally distancing yourself from pain or rooting into victimization are the defense mechanisms that will keep your life stuck while your colleagues and friends soar, making all those headlines and IG posts all that more painful.

So check yourself and ask trusted advisers or book an appointment with a psychologist for a  check-in if you have any underlying negative feedback loops. And if not, just get in the game of life,  and instead of seeking the elusive happy train, go inside to make peace right where you’re at.