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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Why am I never happy enough?

Four emoji-themed balls (AbsolutVision/Pixabay)

Eleanor Roosevelt famously once said, “Happiness is not a goal; it is a byproduct of a life well-lived.” Seeing joy as a goal is a recipe for disaster. Pursuing happiness is essentially chasing after a feeling of contentment, satisfaction, or joy by doing things you believe will make you achieve this. Ironically, this obsessive, relentless pursuit of happiness is a common cause of sadness.

In America, capital-H Happiness is the ultimate overachiever’s trophy. It’s even written into our Declaration of Independence: “[Men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Not only that, but it’s woven into the American Dream too. The American Dream tells a twisted story: if you work hard enough, the stars will align to make you both wealthy and content. The United States, being one of the richest countries in the world, spends a lot of money pursuing material satisfaction. For instance, the U.S. spent $18 billion on cosmetics in a year; it would take $16.3 billion to immunize every child, provide clean drinking water for all, and achieve universal literacy. Despite putting so much energy towards being joyous, the United States is only the eighteenth happiest country

One of the main reasons may be this: by pursuing joy we can feel as though we’re getting nowhere. We end up feeling like we’re never bright enough. (Sure, I’m happy, but am I happy enough? Couldn’t I be happier?). For me, it’s like I’m on this constant treadmill, chasing after delight my whole life, only to find it eludes me. 

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Plus, I’m an overachiever. A normal level of satisfaction isn’t enough if I can be more joyful, and if I’ve seen better days. Some days I feel as though I can try all I want, give it 110%… but I’ll still be in the same position as before, back at square one. Sometimes there’s just not enough time, energy, dedication, or motivation to achieve that ultimate level of jubilation I desire.

A Springer study has shown that people who pursue joy often feel they don’t have enough time in the day, which makes them feel sorrowful. In other words, participants who viewed happiness as a goal had an increased sense of time scarcity, which made them unhappier than participants who viewed happiness as something they already had. 

But pursuing satisfaction is still important. The sort of exhilaration where you can’t stop smiling and where the world seems a little brighter. Don’t give up on finding that. Before I realized this, I would spend hours upon hours studying for the next test or perfecting my notes—because I thought that would bring me inner peace. Surprise: it didn’t. There are quite a few scientifically-proven practices that I’ve tried that helped me move past that. Generally speaking, these activities aren’t telling you to go out there and try this new activity because it’ll surely make you better. They’re telling you to appreciate what you’ve already got.

Some good examples are practicing gratitude, positivity, and mindfulness through journaling; meditation; exercise; and spending more time with family and friends, which is understandably harder given the situation we’re in. Still, consider meeting up socially distanced, FaceTiming, or organizing a Zoom. Another tip is to prioritize what matters most to you. There are only 24 hours in a day, which results in me feeling overwhelmed and stressed all the time. In those moments, I make sure to prioritize what is most important and will make me feel best, whether that’s writing it all down, exercising, or simply breathing. Other times it just helps to do something I love, whatever that may be. Here’s one more tip: smile. On purpose. It’s been shown to improve your mood. 

Lastly, joy should come from you, not an external source. Don’t let your well-being hang on what-ifs. Have you ever thought, “I’ll be happy when…”? For me, it’s usually, “I’ll be happy when I ace the test”. Sometimes I ace the test, and other times I don’t. It’s unavoidable for me to feel a little dejected if I don’t do as well as I’d hoped, but I’m not going to be forever sad. I know I did the best I could do, and all studying even harder would’ve done is stressed me out, not made me prouder of myself. And the truth is even if I do ace the test, there’ll always be another one. For me, there are other, better ways to be satisfied. 

All in all, pursuing (unattainable) joy as a goal to meet, is a sure way to be miserable. I can chase happiness all I want, but I’d just be running on a treadmill, never going anywhere. But at the end of the day, it’s about constantly being perfectly okay, it’s about being okay that sometimes you won’t be.

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Isabella Duchovny
Isabella Duchovny, Managing Editor

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