By Olivia Ellis
Happiness: The state of being happy
Happy: Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment
Definitions by Google Dictionary
Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment…
Happiness is contagious. When you see someone smile, it makes you want to smile. In psychology this is called mirroring. And if you act and behave in a certain way, this can impact how you feel. If I smile, it can make someone else smile. And if we both smile, maybe it can impact how we are actually feeling in that moment. After all, being happy is feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. But the truth is, regardless of how someone behaves or acts, the moment of happiness reflected on their face does not always show the rollercoaster of what life has been and what it will continue to be.
A few years ago I started actively pursuing trying to make others happier. My mantra for years was that I knew I wouldn’t be the one that cured the common cold or cancer, but I could potentially be the person to make them smile. From there I began to do what I thought would make others smile. I started carrying bubbles with me everywhere so that if I saw someone having a bad day, I could offer for them to blow a bubble (the act of blowing a bubble and even being offered to blow a bubble typically made people laugh at the absurdity). I would seek out other opportunities to make people’s days. But often I felt that there was a larger piece of the puzzle I was missing. How can I help raise the average person’s happiness levels just a little bit more? Not just for a fleeting moment, but for an extended period?
This led me to start studying the science behind happiness (positive psychology). A few months into my studies I started to develop symptoms of depression. I remember watching a video of Shawn Achor (author of The Happiness Advantage) in which he described developing depressive symptoms while studying happiness at Harvard. At the time I didn’t understand how that was possible, but finally, it made sense. I was learning all the tools that science was telling me could make me happier, and forcing myself to do them. At the same time, I was becoming depressed and frustrated that they weren’t helping me become happier, thus making me feel helpless. I felt overwhelmed, undernourished spiritually, rest deprived, and doing things that weren’t authentically me. At the same time, I was trying to appear like the person I was when I felt I was at my happiest. In other words, my desire to achieve “happiness” led me to unhappiness.
It bothered me because I felt I wasn’t living up to the person people knew me as. But above all, what bothered me most was that some people didn’t know that I wasn’t ALWAYS happy. One of the most frequent comments I got was that people wanted to be around me because I was always happy. At the time I took it as a compliment. I had hoped I was being a good role model. Now I realize that it shouldn’t just be about always being happy or surrounding yourself with happiness, it should be surrounding yourself with authentic people who have strong goals and can keep you motivated to being your best self. Your FULL self which includes the side you want to share on platforms such as social media and the sides that are still just as beautiful, but are more challenging to share because they make us feel vulnerable. Social media and fleeting interactions with people made them think that I was always happy. The truth is, a happy life does not revolve around a single emotion. In fact, to FEEL happiness, you need to experience all ranges of emotions. Idolizing a given state that is unsustainable can be incredibly harmful. The way I come across in social media is not my best self. It is just one side of me. The beauty of happiness is not just the being happy part. The beauty of happiness is that I can also experience sadness, jealousy, anger and frustration making it possible for me to cherish the times when I feel happy. The beauty of a sunny day is not just the moment of being out in the sun; it’s the beauty that sometimes the skies are cloudy and sometimes it rains. We can feel and experience the sunshine more strongly because of the days when we don’t have as much sunshine. If I was always FEELING happy, it would be a very bland life. That being said, I can still feel and experience other emotions WITHOUT taking it out on others. It’s important to feel a wide range of emotions, but just because I feel jealousy or anger does not mean I have the right to treat someone else poorly. Feeling and acting upon my emotions are two completely different options. But just because I shouldn’t act upon those emotions doesn’t mean I shouldn’t feel and experience them.
My best self is no longer someone who shows this brand of being only “happy” and sets unrealistic expectations of what life is. My best self is someone who accepts and appreciates all ranges of emotions and states of being but who is determined to continue to bring out the best in others and myself. I can do things on a daily basis to be happier, but fixating on only being happy can lead to frustration because it’s impossible. Don’t strive for happiness. Strive for your best self. Create goals, notice things that lower your energy (food, certain people, etc), notice things that raise your energy (food, certain people, etc), and take care of your body (eating well, sleeping, and working out). Don’t fixate on the end goal of happiness, focus and enjoy the PROCESS of becoming a better you.
I’ve been very fortunate. I have incredible support, but I still struggle. Next time you see me, I may smile, I may not. Regardless of what emotion I show, or the person next to you shows, remember that we are all human. And regardless of what emotion we display, we still feel what most people would consider “negative” emotions. One of the most harmful things we can do to ourselves is to make this vision of what we see a goal for ourselves. If I see someone who seemingly has the perfect life, I know it’s just one side of them- the only side they really want others to see. But we can’t get fixated on that because it is not a full representation of that person. Similar to an ocean, you can’t see or understand the depths just by looking at the surface. There is so much more to us.
Don’t strive to “be happy”. Don’t strive to be a single emotion. Embrace being a real human who has real emotions and is proud of them all. And when working on becoming a person who is raising their overall level of happiness to become more resilient, do things that are authentic and don’t get frustrated when something works for someone else but not you. You are unique. You are beautiful. You have the permission to be human. You have the permission to be 100% you. Focusing on only being happy is overrated. Focusing on being happier is better. But you in your entirety are already spectacular.
Olivia is a fitness professional living in Palm Springs, CA. She has over 10 fitness specific certifications, a Masters degree in Exercise Science, and a Certificate in Positive Psychology (the science behind happiness). She loves bubble blowing and having real conversations.