Happiness is not Effortless

Earlier today, I realized something, which was preceded by a perfectly normal day. I worked a 7-3:30 shift and was extremely productive, driven by the desire to make a good impression on our still-new manager.

I got out of work after doing the best I could to do as much work as possible (and impressing myself in the process, if I’m being honest), and headed to the gym where I planned on sweating out my recent frustrations, insecurities, anxieties, and general dissatisfactions. I left after running two miles and doing about 40 minutes of upper body workouts. It felt great to be back, to be taking care of my body and making good use of my time.

On the way home, I put all my music on my phone on shuffle. A song came on that was very important to me several years ago; a time when I was in a relationship with a different person and I was a different person myself. I hadn’t listened to this song in a few years because it brought me back to this time that I honestly didn’t want to associate with anymore. But I let it play. I remembered the lyrics perfectly despite not listening to them in years, and I belted them, windows down, not caring. I couldn’t help the smile that stretched my face, and I even felt the pull of tears trying to make themselves known, pure joy.

Sometimes when joy and happiness hit me like this, I find it frustrating – what kind of paradox is that? My happiness frustrates me? But I know the reason. Whenever I feel that way, it’s like I need to know why. What made me feel like this, so happy and – for once – so not anxious? I want to feel this way every day. I began thinking, and I guess I knew this already, but I consciously realized that you have the power to make yourself happy, and yes it does require effort. Even with a naturally positive disposition, no one is happy all the time for no reason.

It hit me that I had just run two miles and really worked my body out. I felt good from the subsequent dopamine and endorphins, and emotionally I felt accomplished and productive and proud for taking care of myself. When that particular song came on, I remembered how much I used to love it, and that made me even happier.

As I listened and sang, I thought further. I thought about how it is kind of disappointing when I realize I can’t be 100% happy 100% of the time for no reason. But A) life just isn’t like that; we experience a vast range of emotions that all serve some purpose. To want to be completely happy all the time is understandable but realistically unreasonable. And B) you can’t (or at least I can’t), be completely naturally content without at least a little effort.

Realizing that happiness is not effortless is oddly freeing – it puts you in control. Rather than sitting around waiting for happiness to show up, you consciously do the things that you know will make you feel happy and content. I think we all need to realize that your happiness is all on you, it’s all your responsibility, but it’s not all in your head; it’s more than just an attitude adjustment, or change in perspective. You need to do things to make yourself happy, more comfortable, less stressed, less anxious. Learn what these things are, and what can have a tremendous effect on your contentment. Tidy up, go for a run, breathe deeply, surround yourself with nature, eat nourishing food, eat junk food just to enjoy it, don’t talk to people who exhaust you, take a social media break, write, pamper yourself, get enough sleep, wake up early, give yourself permission to do nothing for awhile, or tackle a chore or task you’ve been dreading. There are so many things you can do to relax your body and your mind, and therefore improve your emotional state. Do them every day. There are so many things that build up and get us down, but we don’t have to let them, or we can at least fight them with mindful positivity.

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