Updated: Sep 22, 2020
When I finally stopped chasing after what society tells us is happiness, I found something so much better.
Imagine that while you’re sleeping, all of your problems are solved. When you wake up, how will you know that things are better? What specific changes do you notice?
I don’t know what to say…
It was the best answer I could give my therapist when she asked me this question. I wanted time to think of a good response; a valuable concept that made me feel worldly and intelligent or at least slightly insightful…This was an opportunity to pitch my life goals and to outline my career aspirations to someone. This would justify my need for ambition.
But all I could seem to say was, “I don’t know what to say”.
All the good and high achiever responses didn’t feel right anymore. They were forced responses I was taught to say when asked about my goals. If I woke up and all those things had come true, I realized I would still not know if things are better in my life. I could be everything I hope to be one day- a published author, speaker, podcaster, young women’s business coach and possibly be bringing in more money than I can wrap my head around, but I know without a doubt those things won’t necessarily validate that my life is “good” or my problems are better. They merely check boxes that society has raised me to believe equate to happiness. I’m tired of checking other people’s boxes. The true response I wanted to give was honest, raw, heartfelt and terrifying. It made me feel I was settling for good when I could be great. It made me think I didn’t want enough in life and I never seem to feel like I am enough. This is a paradigm. Our environments, family and culture set the precedence for what is required to live a happy and fulfilled life. These expectations are likely wrong.
These benchmarks are not mine. I wasn’t ready to define my happiness by something I couldn’t control- the uncertainty of life. To be happy is subjective and fleeting. We can catch it at times, but we’re mistaken to think we can hold onto it. The desperate act of grasping it creates the counter — unhappiness.
She urged me again. “Jenn try not to put too much pressure on yourself. What are the thoughts that first come to mind?” I close my eyes. The sunshine is peeking iridescent rays of color dancing on my walls. I tell her everything. It all pours out. It does not come from my head. It comes from my heart. All the tiny details I love in my life that never mattered until the moment they did. This is how I know that everything is okay. That I am okay. That any problems I may have will be solved because I have all the tiny moments and they are mine to keep without effort. They are the conversations I cherish, the air I share with the people I love, the laughs, the fights and the tears that matter; the warmth of the sun. What I learned from answering this question is that my life is exactly where it should be and that I have to stop chasing the things I think I want… I have to stop chasing after happiness and instead seek something so much better. Contentment. Everything I listed when I answered this question is centered around the little parts in my life that make me so damn content. My goal in life is only this. Contentment. Contentment allows love to flow without attachment When I’m seeking happiness, I feel the need to accumulate things, to fill an un-fillable void, and to seek out perfection in everything I do. I spend too much money on materialistic things, and I become impulsive in my need to chase what I think will bring happiness. I buy the things, I go after the people and guess what- I’m happy for a second and then it has to be the next thing and the next. It never stops. Happiness encourages us to “attach” to things and relationships that may not matter in the big picture of life. We attach to all kinds of things and when these things are gone, we hit a new low. WIFI, clothes, our identity, our careers, our children, friends, spouses, vehicles… the list goes on and on. Many of us learned during the pandemic how to do without a lot of our attachments and to me this was freeing, but I’m already resorting back to the things I think I need because I’ve told myself they equate to happiness. I don’t want happiness. Nowhere on my list did I list a “thing” to wake up and have acquired. There are no “things”. When you love something, you appreciate it in the moment it happens or when it comes into your orbit. You love it in the moment and your love makes you content. When it leaves, you’re okay. You let it go.
You may miss it for the joy it brought, but you’re truly okay when it’s gone. Learn to love things and let them flow rather than think you have to have them to be happy. Parenting can be a great example of attachment vs. love. The idea of not being attached to our children is a tough concept. When we attach to our children, we live vicariously through them. We truly believe they are our only form of happiness. We let them bring us this happiness and we cannot imagine living a life without them. Let me be very clear here- If attachment to my children means that I could not breathe the air on this earth without them- then I will stay happily attached to them forever because I cannot think of a single thing worse than losing a child. Like… nothing could ever be worse. But with my children, I TRY my best to love them and not attach- as hard as that can be. They are not my only identity. They are living, breathing, smart individual human beings that are dependent on me for certain things relative to their ages and I do my best each day to nurture, and love them.
I do not attach. I breathe them in. I hold them tight. I let them go. They elevate me with their presence. They do not minimize me with their absence. Contentment comes when you’re not seeking it It comes to me without warning and I can only feel the contentment in the moment it hits me. It allows me to close my eyes, take a snapshot of the memory and simply feel… It’s not something I chase. I don’t know when it’s coming. We define in our minds what happiness should look and feel like and we search high and low for it. We maximize ourselves, our careers and we set all the goals. We say things like “when I get ‘x,y and z’- I will be happy”, but we get those things and we’re still not happy so we add “a-b and c” to the mix. It’s never enough. My entire life, I have determined my level of happiness on future accomplishments I need to achieve. These things have NEVER made me feel like I’ve arrived at my happiness. I’ve never felt it was enough so I kept chasing it. Happiness was always outside my reach and in my determination to hold on to it, I spun around and around seeking something I couldn’t really define- eyes always focused straight ahead and I was missing everything that mattered. Now, I work on reflecting back to the things I have accomplished and all the gratitude’s I have for each day. Keeping a gratitude journal and writing daily helps me to capture the things that make me content. Seeing a sunset. Feeling a breeze against my face. 5am snuggles — Breathing her in.
Contentment is like running with a tail wind at your back I love to run. Running is my freedom. Running keeps my mind sharp and my creativity flowing. I wait for the mornings when everything is perfectly in sync. I have energy, I feel incredible, my legs are flying. I am flying. The wind is at my back pushing me forward. This is how I can best describe contentment. It’s a beautiful surprise when you have zero expectations and the wind appears at your back. Some days are the complete opposite. I leave the house and I have expectations of a good run. I did everything I was supposed to do- ate right, hydrated, slept well and therefore I’m guaranteed a happy run. And then it turns out horrible. My expectations are failed. I hit a low. The wind comes at me and it’s the wrong direction. But that’s the problem of expectations- and of defining what “must” happen to be happy. Sometimes life does not go your way and you’re running against the wind. Everything sucks and you can never seem to achieve what you need, leaving you with disappointment. This is the same as defining happiness and running after it. When you set expectations of what happiness should look like- you set yourself up to not only possibly fail, but to deal unexpectedly with the defeat of adversity. You don’t land in contentment- you land in frustration, anger or another type of negative emotion. Contentment is planning, organizing and minimizing It’s important to note that I’m a goal setter. I plan my days, my weeks, months, years, and so forth. This does not mean I seek happiness. Planning is a way that allows my brain to just chill. I can write everything down, schedule it in my calendar, reverse engineer my huge goals and tackle them at the times I schedule. This is called time management and managing time is key to allowing yourself the bandwidth to truly relax and enjoy the moments. To be content- I have to take the time to plan and organize my life. Contentment is gratitude When I think of the question from my therapist- my answer reflects every single moment I cherish. It’s every smell, memory, voice and impression that sticks to my soul and makes my life chaotic and beautiful. I am human though and not alone in seeking out happiness with materialistic things, fancy vacations and anything else that I believe will bring me a little happiness. I have a hard time believing that sitting beachside in a new bikini with a class of wine, my bestie and a cute cabana boy isn’t true happiness, but I digress… The purpose here is to do all the things my heart desires, but to maintain perspective and see them for what they are. It is okay to purchase beautiful things and invest in yourself, but make sure your intention is good. These things: They are not happiness. They can not fill the void. They are not attaching and requiring people to stay. They are tokens of joy to love one moment; to show gratitude for in the next and to know you’re okay when they are gone. When I’m asked the question: Imagine that while you’re sleeping, all of your problems are solved. When you wake up, how will you know that things are better? Here was my response… The smell of cinnamon and lavender envelopes me. I see the sun shining. I stretch across the entire length of my own bed. I hear my daughter’s feet bouncing down the stairs for morning snuggles.
She brings the smell — lavender and cinnamon. Her curls are a beautiful mess. Her voice is tender and sweet. “Good morning mama…” We lay together. We breathe the same air. I’m ready to start my day doing all the all things that makes my heart smile. I’m organized with my priorities. My time is well managed. I want for nothing. I am not happy. I am so content. Thank you for taking time to read this article. I hope it inspires you to thrive from the small moments and to consider what your morning would look like if you were to wake up and everything was exactly how you needed it to be.