In a difficult conversation, I recently encouraged a friend to think about the things he needs to make him happy. It seems that in the process of figuring out life, he has made some commitments to people that are contradictory and, in all reality, are pulling him in different directions. As a way to help, I encouraged this friend to stop trying to make decisions for other people. I encouraged him to think not about what makes everyone else happy, but to focus instead on what will make him happy. His response was, “I’m not trying to make anyone happy. I’m just trying not to make anyone sad.”
I’ve been thinking about this response for more than a week now. What I’ve been trying to discern is the difference between being happy and not being sad. Since they are opposites, one could argue that if you’re not sad, you are indeed happy. But in reality, not being sad doesn’t imply happiness at all. In fact, I think the span between sad and happy is broader than we ever really think about. Someplace in the middle of the spectrum is probably a feeling of contentment. But again, contentment and happy are two very different terms.
I have written many times about my desire to live a life full of joy. Lately, however, I’ve begun to think that most people rarely focus on living a life of joy. Instead, I think most people settle into a comfort zone. That space in life is comfortable because maybe it offers a steady income, someone to hang out with on a regular basis, or even a sense of belonging. It establishes a status quo that we’ve looked at, evaluated, and decided meets our basic needs. It keeps us safe – physically and emotionally. And I would argue that it rarely stretches us to evaluate our beliefs or our needs. We just settle … into routines, into habits, into people. This idea is presented without any judgment of others; I, myself, have done the same.
But what if we could refuse to settle? What if we committed ourselves to living our lives on purpose and with purpose? What if we could live a life that truly made us happy? If you could choose that, would you?
The quick response is probably, “Of course I would!” But think about the questions for a moment. Would you really? You see, I think living a life that intentionally seeks joy is challenging. It means that we have to first know ourselves – really know ourselves. We have to know what makes us tick, what motivates us, what scares us, what we really want. And then after we’ve identified all those things, we have to be willing to make choices based on the answers, despite what anyone else thinks.
So today I am thinking about whether my life makes me happy. Because if it’s the case that I’m just not sad, I deserve better. And so do you.