The Happiness Makeover (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2014), by M.J. Ryan, shows how to find happiness by enjoying every day, regardless of the problems life throws at us, and learning to think optimistically. In the following excerpt from Chapter 3, “Do You Motivate Yourself Through Discontent?,” Ryan teaches us that we subconsciously create our own discontent to satisfy our desire to improve our lives when instead we should see life as something to savor rather than a series of problems to fix.
“You create problems so that you can feel that life is a great work, a growth, and you have to struggle hard.”
When Don and I first started living together, it was so easy that I thought something was seriously wrong. I was used to relationships that were full of drama and struggle, where we “worked” on issues (not that the work got us anywhere, but we felt like we were trying), and I spent all of my mental energy on trying to fix the other person. What was I supposed to do all day, I asked my friend Daphne, if not work on or worry about my relationship? “Enjoy the peacefulness,” she advised, “and if you need something to fill the time, take up knitting.”
I never did learn to knit, but I have learned to be happy and content in love. And I can tell you it sure felt awkward at first.
I don’t think I’m alone. I believe that lots of us don’t experience the happiness available to us because we use our unhappiness to motivate ourselves. The fact that there’s always a problem to be fixed keeps us going. Perhaps it comes from the Protestant work ethic that still permeates this culture, but many of us unconsciously suspect that if we’re happy, we’ll sit around and accomplish nothing. So we make sure there’s always a problem. If it isn’t love that has our knickers in a twist, it’s work. Or our parents or children. This discontent is also fueled by the attention—of the media, the educational system, psychology, our families—on what’s wrong with us rather than what’s right. Rather than celebrating our strengths and gifts, we tend to focus on all our foibles and failings—and those around us—and therefore view life as a self-improvement project.
What if we changed our orientation? What would happen if we saw our life as something to be savored, rather than as a series of problems to be solved? Here’s how a friend, a working mother with two small kids, put it in a recent e-mail: “I’m embracing the fact that there will never be enough time for work, for children, for marriage, for me . . . for about 15 years. It’s just a fact of life, so I try to really enjoy all the moments—and there are many precious, wonderful moments these days.”
When we are motivated by happiness, it doesn’t mean that we ignore our difficulties. Rather, like my friend said, we embrace our lives wholeheartedly, the good and the not so good, and relax into it, not making the bad worse by denial or drama. Is my relationship with Don perfect? Of course not. I could give you a laundry list of all his faults and my faults and the imperfections of our marriage. But I’ve learned the hard way that a relationship is not a fix-it project; what’s needed is much more acceptance of the way it is and enjoyment of what is wonderful rather than an attempt to fix every flaw. And when issues begin to truly get in our way, we do deal with them.
Learn more about enjoying life: Read The Happiness Makeover to learn why you're not responsible for anyone else's happiness and why you should deal with negative emotions to achieve real happiness.
Reprinted with permission from Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC., The Happiness Makeover: Teach Yourself to Enjoy Every Day by M.J. Ryan is available wherever books or ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at 1-800-423-7087 or Red Wheel/Weiser.