I live in a world, both personal and professional, where the recurrent questions are, “What do I need to do to be happy?” or, “Why am I not happier?” or, “My husband/wife isn’t happy. What should I do?” Each of these questions makes happiness the central goal. In these cases it’s not the freedom to pursue happiness that’s desired. It’s the actual acquisition of happiness.
Not too long ago it came to me that there are some dark truths associated with marital success. I like the notion of dark truths. To me, it suggests depth, mystery and possibility. So, I thought I’d develop a seminar on the subject. In an effort to promote the endeavor I contacted a group that specializes in Facebook advertising. When presented with the concept (The Dark Truths of Successful Marriage), the consultant pointed out that Facebook doesn’t like things that suggest difficulty or unpleasantness. Facebook prefers upbeat and happy posts. I thought, “That’s really interesting! How does anyone get to a better place without some difficulty and unpleasantness?” After all, we pin a lot of hope on the idea captured by, “No pain. No gain.”
In an effort to better understand the need for happiness, I often ask clients, “If you HAD to choose between a happy life and a meaningful life, which would you choose?” For most, this is a difficult question. How it’s answered matters a lot.
Imagine experiencing a period of relationship conflict. It’s not fun! It undoubtedly leads to substantial unhappiness. Then, imagine saying to yourself, “I really want to be happy. I can’t stand this misery.” What would be the next step?
Alternately, imagine the same situation but this time saying to yourself, “I really need to find some meaning in this difficulty.” What would be the next step?
How you approach a situation when happiness is the primary goal can differ greatly from how you approach it when meaning is the primary goal.
Truth be told, happiness and meaning are intertwined. They probably can’t be completely separated. But, it matters which you put first when dealing with difficult times. When difficult times are approached with an effort to find meaning, they are necessarily given close attention and respect. When they are approached with happiness as the primary goal, they will likely be greeted with annoyance and exasperation.
Consider looking for a depth of meaning when tough times show up. Chances are, sticking with this approach will result in genuine happiness when all is said and done.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.