Are You Happy?

September 4th, 2010 | Shonali Burke | 22 Comments

A few days ago, I was on the phone with with someone very dear to me; someone I respect as a professional, and am proud to call friend.

She recently launched her own business, which she was very excited about.

This was her dream. She quit her job to pursue the dream. She is ostensibly living the dream.

But talking to me the other day about her business, she said, “I’m not happy.”

That stopped me in my tracks.

This is someone who is full of life, always has a good thing to say about other people (even when I don’t), and is as close to a human dose of Vitamin B as you can get.

But she’s not happy.

What is happiness, exactly?

Image: Robert Nunnally via Flickr, CC 2.0

I know there are dictionary definitions for it

But I don’t know if that makes happiness any easier to identify, let alone attain.

We get so busy doing this, doing that, going here, going there, excited about a new development, crushed by another that did not pan out.

How often do we stop to think about whether we are happy or not?

Or stop, and just be?

We all deserve to be happy.

And especially if we have chosen to leave the beaten path and strike out on our own… it better make us happy.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Why go through the hassles of setting up a business, drumming up clients, dealing with the various taxes, blah blah blah, if it doesn’t make us happy?

While I still don’t have a perfect definition of happiness – and probably never will – I think I am happy when I don’t want to be anywhere else, don’t want to be doing anything else, don’t want to want.

When I am content in the moment and wouldn’t change a single thing about it.

My dog Suzy gets this.

Here in the U.S., we have far too few holidays and we put in a ridiculous number of hours at work.

Which is probably one of the reasons the few holidays we do have get jam-packed with “stuff.”

By the time they’re over, we’re exhausted, vowing to turn it down the next time… and then we do it all over again.

We owe it to ourselves to figure out if we’re happy.

And if we’re not, how to change that.

I don’t mean the “I’m so irritated by ___ ” that we all go through, probably more often than we care to admit.

But consistently, over several months, if we are restless, searching, discontent… we are not happy, and we need to change that.

So as you head into your Labor Day weekend, please ask yourself: are you happy?

My wish for you is that you are.

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Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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19 comments
Alexandrafunfit
Alexandrafunfit

I have discovered that the best way to be happy is to try and bring smiles to other people. I don't find much joy, pleasure, happiness, etc., in doing stuff that is just for myself (yes, I do save some "me" time). Rather, I feel at my best when someone feels they have been enriched, enlightened or entertained by me. Maybe that's selfish; maybe that's happiness. But if you truly like people, it will show, and that's my path to happiness.

Alex Talbott
Alex Talbott

Hi Shonali!

I think you have (consciously or unconsciously) tapped into the Zietgeist with this one. Definitely from the perspective of the UK.

With the recession still hanging around and the very real threat of cuts in the public sector, people in the UK are starting to question their goals and how they spend their time. Gaining happiness is proving to be a popular way of gauging success in life now there isn't so much money around.

Interestingly the marketing sector doesn't seem to have caught onto this idea so maybe it is only a fleeting trend. Maybe we are too caught up in our divisive form of capitalism to really make a change toward taking our happiness into account.

Personally, I secretly like to be too busy and constantly have new projects, challenges and potential successes on my plate! That is the way *I* work, but not everyone. It would be fantastic if this discussion, on your blog and others, made just a few bosses out there consider how to appropriately manage their staff (person by person), so that their happiness and wellbeing are held in the highest regard.

Me and my busy mind are now happy to have explored this discussion a little further :)

Cheers,

Alex

Donna Vincent Roa
Donna Vincent Roa

First, I am happy that you wrote about happy. I love the subject and want to say that I am a student of happiness and think about it a lot. I am convinced that the universe wants us to be happy and regularly sends us experiences, people, nature/environment, and beauty to remind us to center back to happiness, no matter what is happening in our lives. Mixed into this is the call to action for something that will benefit others. We have to be tuned to this and receptive.

Everyone has their own definition and is uniquely affected by the "center back" messages from the universe. For example, I love nature. About a week ago, on my front porch, I saw a locust shedding its skin...in the process of emerging from it. I had my camera in my hand and documented the experience. It was a WOW moment. Something so simple created a distinct moment of happiness for me. (Now, I need to post it on my blog and share it with others!)

I was so happy to have had the chance to see this happen. Most of the time, we just see the remains--the skin shell the locust leaves behind.

I was recently on top of Cadillac Mountain and felt like I was breathing the air of angels. It was one of those centering moments.

Also, most of us can admit to food bringing you there sometimes? Haven't you closed your eyes when you ate a great piece of sushi or felt the happy sensation of a nice curry on your tongue? That's a piece of happiness.

You can think of others, I am sure.

Finally, I think that the more we become open to considering happy as center, those experiences will line up to keep us there.

Shonali, thanks for the thought-provoking post.

SIGNED:
Affectionately, a Happiness Guru.

Beth
Beth

At my core, yes I am happy. The issue is the happiness often gets masked with daily frustrations. I tend to lose my view of this happiness until something makes me slow down and re-examine my life. Something like this post. Thanks for a thought-provoking post and reminder.

AvalonConcierges
AvalonConcierges

This is a very interesting and relatable story. Having the appearance of fulfilment in life, but no happiness is very common among someone who has yet to balance who they are and what they do. Personally, I discovered there is a difference between who I am and what I do...and that's ok! Unhappiness in this area is due to three things: 1) An Identity Crisis 2) A lack of understanding Role vs You 3) An Intimidatedation by the Apperance Inferiority.
Once I embraced who I was as a man, the frustration of performing the duties that came with my various roles such as job, husband, brother, mentor, etc. were removed. Then I had the courage to not be pressured by this society causing me to feel inferior. It's a very elementary concept, but difficult to embrace. This is how I escaped the torment of not being happy or fulfilled. Didn't mean to say all that, so sorry! :-)

Julia
Julia

What a wonderful probing and honest post! Here is my take on the happy question: I am happy because happy follows me wherever I go – or maybe I hold happy hostage and drag it along with me! I suppose it is fair to say that demand that happy be where I am or better still – if happy is not there – neither am I. I suppose that this can be interpreted as very naïve or very wise. Maybe it will be seen as bratty as hell or selective. I will go with the later on both. And, I will also say it took years to cultivate an environment of happiness. And it is a possible, reasonable and necessary goal for all. It started with truth (I am an entrepreneur who gets giddy from good ideas), risk-taking (I have been in business – one form or another since I was 5 years old – ask my Mom) and confidence (I hand pick my clients, staff, vendors and even my work space – down to the candles) to make choices that keep the happiness around. I am positive that each one of us needs to find our own formula. And am so thrilled that you have blogged this important reminder for us all! Well done!

himanshu nagpal
himanshu nagpal

Mam,

We have to curb our hunger, greed in order to attain happiness.

We are never satisfied by what we have got.

Thats why happiness makes us follow throughout the life.

Nice article, compelled me to comment, even though i dont write good.

Liz Scherer
Liz Scherer

Shonali - It seems that the the pressure to become "happy" has become an unpleasurable journey. "Happy" is such as vague, unmeasurable state of being and happy for one individual might not be happy for another.

Rather than going for the gold ring, why not strive to not be unhappy or discontent in your life, to embrace who you are and what you want, to live and as you say, take time to "be." I've been thinking a lot of this lately because I've had numerous people in my life accusing me of being "unhappy," when this isn't the case. That's why I think that the definition only serves to create a "have" "have not" system and a lot of people who feel that there is something wrong with them. I don't want to measure myself by others. I want to measure myself against myself.

Thank you for the timely post.

Brian Meeks
Brian Meeks

I am happy. I might be as happy as Suzy. She looks like she might be interested in discussing the possibility of a belly rub. I mean...who doesn't love a good belly rub?!

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

"Selfish." That's a really interesting point, Alexandra. I've often wondered if that's the impetus behind people who work for charities and/or non-profit organizations as well (now just watch the shoes come hurtling my way). Is it really because we/they are "passionate" about the mission, etc., or because it makes them feel good... and if "feeling good" is the motivation, could that not be construed as selfishness, rather than altruism?

I rather like your path to happiness, and you have made me laugh many a time. Keep it coming!

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

"Conscious or unconscious," Alex?

I suppose it was a little bit of both. Happiness/contentment are never too far from my mind, and I guess I've had recent conversations with people (as I alluded to in the post) that made me realize it's on others' minds as well... so that's where it came from.

I think many of us like to be too busy - you're not the only one, and I have that tendency too. Perhaps that "busy-ness" helps to fill something inside, makes us feel wanted, and that people are paying attention to us. This is not a judgment on anyone by any means, but I have to wonder if, when the lack of "stuff to do" makes us feel useless, we just don't want to be with ourselves.

Have you read Eric Weiner's "The Geography of Bliss," by the way? It's a great book.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

I love your signature line, Donna! Thank you for the wonderful response.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Beth, it seems the key for many of us is to slow down. Perhaps we should all be looking to slow down rather than "ramp up."

Thank you for stopping by.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Please don't be sorry about sharing your thoughts, I'm touched that you did. :)

AvalonConcierges
AvalonConcierges

Sorry, dang on IPhone. Number is An Intimidation of the Apperance of Inferiority.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Julia, I love that you "drag happy" along with you wherever you go. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Very true, Himanshu, and don't worry about your writing, I appreciate the comment very much.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Liz - making the double negative into the positive, right?

I'm with you. I used to give a similar response when I was younger and people asked me what I wanted "to do," or what my "perfect job" was, etc. I couldn't always tell them what that was, but I was pretty clear on what it wasn't.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Brian, Suzy would definitely agree with you on that one!

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