In her former life, Emily “Gynomite” Gordon was a couples and family therapist licensed in 2 1/2 states. In this life, she’s a freelance fighter of your emotional woes with Ask Gynomite. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org- all emails stay confidential. Today, Gynomite takes on happiness.
When I was 16 years old, my dream was to get a job in graphic arts, be with a guy that makes me laugh, and live in an interesting city. I actually fantasized about driving in a city, in my grown up clothes, singing along to music on the way to my design job. I know this sounds painfully mundane, but it was more than enough for me back in the day.
I am now 27 and have exactly what I fantasized about, but I am much less happy than I thought I would be. I’m having a tough time enjoying what I have in the moment, even though I know I have a lot to be thankful for. It took a lot to get here.
What can I do to change the way I think about my life? I know that this is going to take a lot of work, but no one wants to end up like Don Draper (or do they?).
Well, there are a couple of things going on here, and I can relate. When I was a teenager, my biggest dream was to be sitting in a cafe somewhere in a big city, staring out at the rainy night from my window seat, and just….. sitting there. The first time I got to do that, at age 18 when I visited Boston, I was like “ummmm, ok, so now what?”
Part of the thing is that you perhaps romanticized and “pedestalized” this life you wanted, and thereby made it into a thing so perfect that no reality could ever actually live up to it. The other part of this is that when you were a daydreaming kid, you didn’t look beyond what the outside of your life would look like, which, why would you? You were a kid. We often put structure on things and expect them to fill themselves, but they don’t, and then we wonder why our lives feel bone dry and hollow.
So it’s time to dig back into life and start talking about the things you actually enjoy. What things fill you up? What brings you joy, day to day? What small things light up your time? Nature? A new coffee drink? Finding a new store, or a new route home? TV? Video games? Doing things for others? Animals? Don’t spy on yourself too much, but when you notice yourself feeling happy and fulfilled, start keeping tabs on what brought that feeling on, and don’t look for anything too complicated. For me, being on a walk and seeing a bunch of flowers on a warm day will do it, but for months I was like “maybe because I’m not thinking about work?”. Nope, it was the flowers.
There’s a book I read recently called The Happiness Project that, though it’s not a clinical book and written by a woman with no therapy background, is a pretty good handbook to help you figure out and increase your happiness in daily life. I would recommend it.
There’s no secret to happiness, or key, or tricks that help, really. And there’s no one who feels happy all the time, or even a ton of the time. Most of the time, it’s good to feel content, with peaks of joy, otherwise who would you know how good it felt? It’s just paying attention to yourself enough to realize when you are even slightly happy, and then doing the things that make you feel that way. If your life is feeling a bit unfulfilled, I always recommend volunteer work- nothing too stressful, but just enough to get you some perspective, and get you in on the one-to-one joy of helping others.
Stop being concerned with whether or not your life turned out the way you pictured it (even if it means it succeeded), and start building a happy life in little baby steps.
Good luck. And no one wants to end up like Don Draper.