What to do When You Can’t Control Happiness

Happiness. Who doesn’t want more of it? It’s as elusive for some as it appears easy for others, and it’s no wonder. The thing about happiness is that it is reflected differently for each of us. What makes one of us feel that rush of joy, fulfillment, content satisfaction may not even ring the happiness meter’s smallest rung for another. The other thing that makes happiness tricky is that we can’t control if we feel it or not. We can put our best effort into producing happiness and still come out … not happy.

So what do we do?

Effort & Attitude

If we can’t control happiness, what can we control? Turns out, not a lot! And even if that feels incredibly uncomfortable to you–bare with me. So much of our life is out of control and that’s deeply unsettling to a lot of us. Controlling the controlables–our effort and attitude–is perhaps the quickest and only way to feel happiness. You can control how you approach situations and you can control the effort you put into them. You can not control–or a lot of times even predict–the outcome. If there were a poster child for trying to control things that were (and are!) out of my control–I would be it. I have spent a lot of my life running around trying to control situations to guard my happiness or the happiness of my kids at the expense exhausting myself and those around me. Ultimately I also missed enormous opportunities to feel happiness in unlikely places, like failure, disappointment and challenge. Learning to focus on what I can control and not on the outcome I am after has been a catalyst toward bringing more happiness into my life.

In the Moment

It’s hard to feel happy in a moment when we are busy worrying about future moments or are lamenting and reworking past moments in our minds. Sure, we do need to take time to plan for our future and also to reflect on our past and learn from it–but there is a lot to be said about being present, right where we are. Happiness can be found in a simple cup of coffee, a quiet moment to sit and read a book, or it may find you while you rock your baby to sleep in your favorite chair. We will miss those small, daily doses of happy if we are too busy fretting about the past and worrying about the future.

When do you feel the most happiness?

Searching for happiness is universal, what’s not so one-size-fits-all is what happiness looks like to each of us. When have you felt the most happiness in your life? Was it when you won a big game? Got the promotion at work? Listened to your favorite song on the radio? Watched your son walk for the first time? What are the times in your life you have felt the happiest? You can’t control the outcome of happiness but you can decide to be clear about what you are looking for.

What Happiness is Not

While this may seem counter intuitive, it may be time to look at what your definition of happiness is not. Uniquely individual our perspectives of happiness come to us through who we are and our life experiences. Knowing what we don’t feel good about is as important as knowing what we do. Aristotle was right, happiness does depend on ourselves and just as knowing what happiness means it’s important to know what it doesn’t mean for us.

Happiness is not a feeling you have all the time. After all whatever goes up must come down. Happiness can not be sustained–and frankly why would we want it to? The depth of the feeling is given texture and life by the counter balancing lows we feel. The reality is we would not interpret feelings of happiness as … happy … if we never felt the sadness and slog of the lows. In fact, I think maybe the greatest gift you give yourself when you decide to stop trying to wrangle happiness is for the ability of other–equally as powerful and moving–emotions to say their piece.

Looking for more resources on taking care of yourself this year? Head here. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health please reach out to a Doctor or Therapist for help. 



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