Happy vs Content…Why Routine May Be Hard For You

Funk. Blah. Sad. Depressed. Zombie. Going though the motions. These are all ways I have heard my clients describe this feeling. This place where they feel stuck. They often report desiring to move someplace new, travel, or otherwise get away. They desire freedom, new places, new people, and new situations. Existential questions of “who am I?” and “what am I doing with my life?” present. Being a Licensed Professional Counselor in the mental health field, I hear these concerns frequently. Which I don’t blame them for. I mean, who doesn’t want to feel happy, passionate, driven, goal-directed, and on top of the world?! I don’t know about you, but I pretty much live for those feelings. That “blah” feeling can be incredibly uncomfortable.

This desire for “new” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of benefits can come from new experiences. Travel is highly recommended by many for anyone who may need to do some soul searching. Furthermore, I believe that we are all supposed to go through this at least several times throughout our lives, if not more. I believe it is healthy to go through this. We all need to question who we are, what we are doing, and what we want out of our lives. Questions, in this circumstance, brings forth direction.

But what happens when this becomes your default? When you can’t stay in one place for too long? When you become known as the “flighty” person? When it seems like you’re never happy for long and constantly chasing those “positive feelings.” What happens when the “new” solution lands you right where you were to begin with?

This my friends, is also a common issue. You see, this type of chasing is typically an escape. It is a way of coping since the individual has likely not learned other ways of coping. Let me give you an example. Imagine for a minute that you were raised with addiction in your family. Maybe you experienced extremely low low’s–bad arguments, blow ups within the family, and other instability. This type of environment sets the stage for the good times to feel extra good. When the family is getting along, when you fall in love, when you experience something new and different, it can all be exciting. This unknowingly, can produce what some call an emotional addiction– when you can feel on top of the world while escaping. And it makes sense. I mean, you feel happy and distant from the source of the stress right? This may be a short-term solution, but it creates long-term problems such as:

  • Inability to be reliable and consistent
  • Instability with relationships
  • Instability with finances
  • Inability to live life based on values
  • Inability to learn healthy coping skills
  • Instability within your career

There may be more, but these are the ones I frequently see. You become uncomfortable with normal, mundane, average, every day life. You seek out new and exciting experiences. Most likely because one unconsciously feels that if life is “normal” that means something bad is likely to happen. And if they are on top of the world, they are untouchable.

So, how do you get out of this pattern and find true happiness? First, I’d like to describe the difference between happiness and contentment. You see, those of us in the Western Hemisphere live in a world that emphasizes excitement. We are all about “go big or go home” and entertainment. The expectation is to make as much money and become the CEO of a major corporation, own a mansion, and if you’re doing it right, 5 exotic cars, a yacht, and other toys. The idea of living simply, according to your own values, is less common. And it is a critical difference. You see, life for majority of us, can never be exciting all the time. The body is not built to handle extreme emotions whether we deem them to be “positive” or “negative.” Eventually, the body will crash. Contentment is matching up your values with your actions and your actions with your goals. It is thinking about who you want to be and the life you want to live–realistically speaking. It is learning to be happy with where you are at in your life, even if it isn’t mind blowing excitement. It is learning to create the life you want and to be content with it, rather than looking for the next best thing.

Some questions you may want to ask yourself include:

  • What type of person do I want to be known as?
  • What qualities do I want people to see in me?
  • When I’m on my deathbed, what will likely make me feel like I lived a good life?
  • What do I want to be remembered as?
  • What brings me most joy in life?

After answering these questions, think about how you want these qualities to play out in the following areas:

  • intimate relationships
  • family relationships
  • social relationships
  • Relationship with self
  • parenting
  • Employment
  • Education/training/knowledge
  • Recreation/hobbies
  • Citizenship/community
  • health/physical well-being
  • Mental well-being

After you do this, label how important each of these are for you, such as: not important, semi important, most important. Once this is complete, ask yourself how you’re doing in lining up the way you spend your time with each of the most important areas. Are you spending most of your time on something that is only semi-important to you? Are you living by other people’s expectations? Will your most important items on your list get you to the end goal of being on your death bed saying “I’ve lived a good life?”

If not, it may be time to find contentment rather than excitement. If you do, the end result is likely to be more stability in your relationships, finances, emotions, mental and physical health, and more stability within your own happiness. There is also the bonus of being better able to keep your feet planted when life is throwing curveballs. If you know you are doing what you need to be doing to align your values with your goals and actions, there is less of a threat when the inevitable life stress comes your way!

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