The Happiness Fallacy

Last week I dropped my first grader off for her first day of school. She was feeling a bit nervous and wanted me to take her. And I secretly dread the start of every school year so I was more than happy to comply and bask in the glow of being needed. It was especially helpful to my ego that she clung to me and wanted me to stay in her class. I talked all about her bravery and her love of school and we both moved on.

On my way back down the hallway there were two moms that I assumed had just completed such a mission engaged in conversation. Hence my surprise at the tone and direction of said conversation. It became abundantly clear that they were there to pass the buck, to shift this endless responsibility of parenting elsewhere. I didn't exactly mean to listen to their "private" conversation the entire way out of the building, but as they stomped and fumed and vented behind me I couldn't exactly help it.

One mother was adamant that she was going to switch her child to another district because she has "these same issues every year." At first I was wondering how you could possibly have issues before the first bell of the school year even rang. But mom #2 cleared up my confusion. "Seriously! I called yesterday and chewed them out until they switched my daughter into the class with the male teacher. I mean, she has no male influence in her life and she doesn't listen for crap. Maybe he can fix her. I'm so sick of them not doing what's best for my kid." Uh . . . surely I'm not hearing this correctly.

But I was. I heard it loud and clear. And it's the same thing I hear everywhere. Somebody else is responsible for our happiness. Nothing is anybody's problem. The responsibility is someone else's. Our children's behavior. Their success. Our success. Our behavior. Our happiness. Blame when the said area of our life is less than stellar can be swiftly and easily placed elsewhere, anywhere really, but it never seems to be placed right where it belongs.

We, as a society, have literally wiped away a basic truth from our existence. Maybe "wiped away" is extreme. Maybe "chosen to ignore in all of our narcissistic glory" would be more appropriate here. But we have failed to take responsibility for ourselves. We have failed to be the masters of our own happiness. We've shifted that responsibility to a plethora of external stimuli, blaming everyone and everything and every circumstance.

Please, let's be clear, happiness is a state of being, not a result of being.

Honestly, anyone in any circumstance can be happy. That might be tough to hear, but it's the truth. And this is something God intended for us to figure out. The most critical part of our existence falls squarely on our own shoulders. That misery that we feel that we claim to be unable to do anything about is completely ours to own. We parade around sporting our victimhood as if it's the blue ribbon of a hard knock life, earning us the right to wallow and to complain and to blame. We do it because we're weak.

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.   - 2 Nephi 2:26

Did you hear what he said? We're free. Free to act for ourselves and not to be acted upon. Our freedom to choose gives us the ability to control the very state of our existence. We do not fall prey to misery because of circumstance or outside influence, and we most certainly do not stumble upon happiness as we bound through fields of butterflies and rainbows. We're stronger than that. And we've been created to be more powerful than that.

I'm as guilty as anyone. I'm an angry grump because my kids choose not to listen or because my husband doesn't do exactly what I think he should. I choose misery because sometimes things are hard and it's easier to wallow in self pity than it is to choose to find the inner strength and character to rise above it.

Look, I get it. We are frequently victims; victims of circumstance, victims of crime, and even victims to the poor decisions of myriads of other people. But I'll tell  you what. We are NOT victims to misery. We voluntarily join that club.

Happiness is my responsibility and it's your responsibility. It's not my husband's job to "make me happy." The responsibility doesn't fall to your child's teacher. It doesn't fall to my friends or to your neighbor down the street. My children's momentary disobedience doesn't send me spiraling head first into a pool of misery. I voluntarily dive right in.

We're suddenly failing to take responsibility for everything. We act like helpless pawns being forced to agonizingly suffer through life. We shift blame to all sorts of places where it doesn't belong.

The truth is simple. It's been the truth since the beginning.  We are free; free to choose, free to act, and free to be. We're free to be miserable, but we're also free to be happy. We don't need to be bogged down because of the decisions or behaviors of others. We don't need to despair because life is hard. We can choose happiness every morning when we wake up. And we can continue to choose happiness under whatever circumstances we may be in.

3 thoughts on “The Happiness Fallacy

  1. Jaime

    I had to go back and read this entry. I've always found your writing succinct and inspiring--even though I don't share your religion. And I want you to know that this is a very hard lesson to learn, and one that many can't comprehend. Lately at work I've been miserable and unhappy. I started having conversations with my associates about what was going wrong and how to improve and came to the conclusion that bad attitudes were indeed a huge problem. The last 2 weeks I've made a sincere effort to be happy at work. I've been complimenting work ethic and trying my hardest to lead by example. I've kept negative comments to myself and tried not to fall into the trap of misery. I thought it was going really well and then last night one my employees told me they'd "heard" I was mad about this and that. I was so hurt and stunned. I realized I can't make other people happy, but I'm still going to be the best I can. Now I read your blog and I know I was right. Keep writing Brianne and others will see it too (when they're ready and want to).

    Reply
    1. Post author

      Thank you, Jaime. That meant a lot. And I'm glad things are going better for you. Being responsible for our own happiness is an incredibly hard thing to do and I fail at it consistently. All we can do is keep trying. Thanks for your honesty. And for what it's worth I think you're fantastic. Always have.

      Reply

Seriously, tell me what you think.