The Secret to Happiness?

I have a confession to make.

I like things. I like stuff. And I spend way too much time thinking about other stuff that I would really love to have. I don’t think I’m incredibly high maintenance (well, compared to my wife I am), but I realize that I have a long list of things that I want.

  • a new pair of Merrell shoes
  • a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with a built-in roof rack
  • a better camera (one that has extra lenses and you can take pictures of the moon)
  • a working laptop
  • a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy named Stella
  • a bigger house in a better neighborhood,
  • a job that pays more money
  • nicer clothes
  • to be skinner, better looking, have better skin, etc.
  • more money so I can take my family to Disneyland, skiing, Europe, etc.

I would like all of these things. But I am working on something that I’m not sure I’ve really been able to acknowledge before now.

It starts with admitting my big secret:

I think I believed that getting these THINGS would make my life better, make me happier. I would spend time thinking about these things I wanted and even…gasp…feeling like I was missing something by not having them. Simply put, I equated my level of happiness to what I had or what I was lacking.

What I’ve learned is:

I was wrong.

Now, this giant revelation may be old news to some of you, but it came as a little bit of a surprise for me. I’ve heard the saying “money doesn’t buy happiness” no less than 1,799 times in my lifetime and I would nod and smile and think to myself “well, it sure as heck would make my misery more comfortable.”

But, I do really get it. I’m not saying I’ve perfected this yet by all means. I mean, I still do WANT all of the things on that list (along with world peace, of course). However, I am working on something within me whereas I don’t correlate my level of contentment, worth or just plain happiness on the acquisition or attainment of these things.

One of the absolute best articles I’ve read in a long time was THIS. And I think what was the most effective “A-HA” moment for me was when I really, really read it over and over again, I thought about all of the $$ I’ve spent on books, podcasts, etc. in the “search for happiness.” I thought about all the times words came out of my life to the effect of “if I only had ____, I would be happier.”

Now, I’m starting to cringe when I hear the same things from my kids. They have a little playroom that seems to have an abundance of toys, but they’re not happy with it. They get a video game system for Christmas but now crave the newer and better one and “will only be happy if they get it!” (This may sprout an entirely different post down the line about wanting to buy things for our children so they won’t be sad or disappointed.)

I think most of us do like our things – even those of us who totally believe that “money doesn’t buy happiness” – we like things that are more fun, make our lives more comfortable, entertain us, etc. But how often do we find ourselves thinking that having something new (job, car, home, etc.) would bring your contentment to the next level? My question then is this:

When we attribute our happiness to these things, honors/achievements or relationships, how do we cope when our favorite shoes are discontinued, our job changes, our camera breaks, our car gets totaled, or when real tragedy strikes and these things cannot numb the pain?

I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that their happiness will come and go with such frequency as external things often do. I’m never going to be perfect and I’m never going to be as low maintenance as my wife, but starting now, I have a new promise to myself and to my kids:

I promise not to let my happiness grow or dissipate by external things. I will hold myself accountable when I say “I’m happy BECAUSE I have THIS” or “I’m happy BECAUSE I accomplished THAT.” I promise myself and my kids that together we will learn that happiness doesn’t come from things turning out the way we want, or the things we get to have, it comes from us.


7 thoughts on “The Secret to Happiness?

  1. My BFF and I have talked about this like, a billion times. How I love things. And although I feel that I practice pretty decent restraint, I am torn between wanting to live with very few things (imagine having drawers that actually have nothing in them? Joy!) and feeling that those Sorel Joan of Arctic shale black lace up boots will fill a longing in my heart and make me a better/cooler/more put-together person.

  2. LOVE this post and your ponderings, Holly! I absolutely agree that happiness comes from within…and that material things are a wonderful added bonus! (And I love myself some added bonuses.) 😉

  3. I could not agree more with this entire post! How ironic that last night my meditation class was about this EXACT topic. As long as we think that material items or even other people contribute to our happiness we will ALWAYS be disappointed. We can’t achieve lasting inner peace while we attach our happiness to things or people outside of ourselves. It’s hard to practice, I’m working on it to, but it makes complete and total sense to me. Loved, loved, loved this Holly!

    1. Thanks Michelle! As I said, I’m never going to be a minimalist. I do like these things but I am going to work hard at keeping my value of these “things” in check as they relate to my emotional contentment. It is hard. On days like this when I’m slip-sliding all the way to work in a rattling car, I envision myself smiling behind the wheel of a warm new SUV! But I quickly bring myself back to reality and go about my day!

      1. I don’t think you have to be a minimalist at all. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how much stuff you have, you could have all the stuff you want and that’s totally OK! Just as long as your happiness isn’t depended on whether or not you have those things (I’m saying “you” generally speaking here). I mean I’m a work in progress. I still feel often times like if I just had nicer work clothes, or if I just had $$ to get my hair done more often maybe I’d be happier. I mean I KNOW that’s not true, but those thoughts still come up. It’s all a journey!

  4. I loved this. I have been thinking about this a lot. I love the show “Undercover Boss,” but have begun to notice that the big finish is always some incredibly rich executive giving his company’s workers MONEY. Just money. And they cry and fall on the ground and feel their lives are perfect now. But that can’t be what life is all about. So I’m thinking more about this, and perhaps your additional thoughts will spawn an upcoming post!

    1. Thank you Randi! I stood in line at the gas station the other day behind about 6 people all waiting to buy lotto tickets. I ended up buying one as well ($1 CT lotto). But I stood there listening to 2 women talk about the jackpot. I kept thinking about how we spend so much time craving for a jackpot. What will that do? Hey – don’t get me wrong, if I won even $1 million and could pay my mortgage and student loans off, it would allow us to have a better work schedule and more family time, but it’s the changing my thinking from “how great would it be to have that?!” to “yes, it would be great but I think we are doing pretty darn well right now without it, I don’t NEED it to be fulfilled.”

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