“Hi! My name is Mel, and I am addicted to happiness.”
As a life coach, women often contact me stating they don’t feel happy with their current job, or a relationship is breaking down, they are unsure what their career plan is, they are struggling with financial stresses, or they feel a general unhappiness with the direction of their life. They are often focusing on trying to change something external. It does not take long, however for many of these women to realize that they are out-sourcing their self-worth, and are focused on their happiness, not their joy that is, they are focused on the external rather than the internal.
Society is saturated with advertising focused on happiness and being happy. We’re sold clothing, exercise, makeup, beverages and food, we also hear it in the wellness space – we should aim to be happy, or we should work on our happiness. The focus is on encouraging people to invest their energy, and their resources, on external factors. To some, this is a deliberate play to ensure you buy their products or services – marketing teams are paid incredibly well to do this! It plays on your self-doubt when you are wanting to be better. For others, however, it is a misuse or misunderstanding of vocabulary.
Let me outline the difference, In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses the difference, outlining that happiness is an emotion that is reliant on external circumstances. This could be the perfect house, promotion, a new dress, an award, relationships, or a new car. Like other emotions, happiness comes and goes based on how we chose to react to the external context or situation. Joy, on the other hand, is the internal connection you have with the world around you. This does not fluctuate like an emotion; rather it is cultivated and built.
I want to clarify that happiness is something good in our lives, it is a human emotion. I am not at all suggesting not to experience or want to experience this, rather it is about not relying only on this to feel right about our lives. It is when we are not fostering our internal state of joy that we start to search for this external happiness, and rely on the ‘hit’ it gives us.
This is where the happiness addiction comes in, and trust me, I know it well. One external stimulus can’t maintain happiness for a prolonged period. The ‘high’ of the happiness will eventually run out, the job promotion, the praise, new outfit, or the amazing holiday does not make you feel good forever. Eventually the emotion subsides, which creates a comedown of sorts.
Naturally, you don’t want to feel this way, and so you will search for another ‘happiness hit.’ This could be done by online shopping, texting/messaging other people, applying for another job, entering into new relationships, having a few extra glasses of wine, or taking on an additional project at work. This cycle will continue, of using external things to make you feel good until you work on your internal self, and at creating your joy.
Like other addictions, after a period of time, we need more of the substance, in our case happiness, to reach that same high point. I hear this with women I work with, who start to increase their behavior; they are spending more, reaching out to more men or women, or needing more from them, working crazy hours and taking on more than they can handle.
Personally, I relied on the status of my achievements, the job title I had and the praise I received from others. These were my ‘hits,’ and it made me exhausted. I was continually doing things to get this external recognition so that I could feel good internally. I came to realize that until I felt that I was good enough right now, as I was, I would continue to search for this validation, over and over again. I started the work to correct this.
Do you rely on external factors to feel good? Are you stuck in the cycle of happiness hits and feel as though your happiness drops off after the initial ‘high’? Much like people who are overcoming other chemical addictions, we need to remove the thing that we are addicted to, and replace this craving by nourishing our souls – do pardon the simplicity here.
If this has resonated with you, here are the steps that you can start doing, these steps will start building the joy and replace the happiness addiction.
1. Practice Gratitude
It should be the number one action you take, and you should do it daily. Most people I work with make this one of the first tasks they do as part of their morning routine, so it sets your day up with a grateful mind, which builds a joyous state. You can think about what you are grateful for while you do some diaphragmatic breathing, you could say this out loud while still lying in bed or in the shower, or, like me, you could write down what you are grateful for every morning with a herbal tea. I only do three things every morning, but I am specific. I don’t write family, friends, dogs, and rather I would write “I am grateful for Cara, a friendship that is honest and non-judgmental, a friend who always has my back and would support my decisions no matter what.” Being specific in your gratitude opens up all that you have.
2. Journal and reflect
What are your strengths, the things you love about yourself, what opportunities do you have for growth? Is time to focus inwards. A lot of people struggle to do this, and start by asking other people, what is a good way to start, but beware of doubting what other people have said, and starting to counter their comments. I suggest setting a rule around this for yourself, something like if more than one person says something, e.g., I am good at linking big picture ideas together, I will write it down and add it to my list, without questioning it or arguing that it isn’t true.
3. Spend time alone and enjoy your own company
This could be walking or hiking, relaxing in the tub, meditating, brainstorming, dreaming, Pilates, etc. This was something I really struggled with, being quite the extrovert who needs connection with others to recharge. Like most things, it takes practice and trial and error, find what it is that works for you. Now, I am in a space where I work from home and can spend full days on my own without bouncing off the walls going stir crazy!
4. Identify and address negative self-talk
Listen to what you are telling yourself, and ultimately believing in yourself. If you are speaking negatively about yourself, of course you will be looking externally for the feel good, because you aren’t giving it to yourself!
An exercise you can do that I often do with clients is a ‘3 column talk’ activity:
5. Read and research
Find books and research articles, listen to podcasts, and watch documentaries on this topic. We are all unique and have had different experiences, so various perspectives, voices, and explanations will serve you well. Some of my favorites are; The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, The Elephant and the Twig by Geoff Thompson, Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore, and Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff.
Make this part of your daily routine. Statements like “I am enough” “I deserve love” said out loud to ourselves every day is powerful! These are all exercises I undertook to recover from my happiness addiction, and some I still practice regularly today. Like many things, it is a journey and an up and down one at that. I always choose to feel happy when an external factor warrants that emotion, but I no longer need or crave these things to feel good. I feel good because I am me.
“Hi! I am Mel, and I am a recovering Happiness addict.”