You Don’t Always Know What Will Make You Happy

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If you’re failing at achieving your goals or resolutions, you might not be setting ones that are best for you.


It is traditional at this time of year to reflect on your life and what you wish for in the coming year. In doing so, some people become preoccupied with comparing themselves to others in terms of success, money, and prestige. Thinking about what you wish for in terms of personal and professional future can cause anxiety and insecurity.

The toll of keeping up with the proverbial “Joneses”

For example, Lydia, who is applying for an academic position, has convinced herself that only working for an Ivy League school will give her the recognition and respect she craves. Yet she acknowledges she’d probably be happier teaching at a small liberal arts college

Similarly, Greg is hoping to find a boyfriend whose charm, wit, intelligence, and good looks will dazzle his friends. That’s why Greg consistently rejects guys who do not look like models or sound like college professors. As a result, he remains single. For both Lydia and Greg, not knowing whether or not their wishes will come true is unnerving.

Looking special in other people’s eyes

Growing up with ambitious, successful parents, both Greg and Lydia learned the value of working hard to achieve their lofty goals. To people like Lydia and Greg, not pursuing the most prestigious job or the most desirable partner feels like a betrayal of their high standards, an embrace of mediocrity. They hope that other people’s admiration and envy will make them feel more special and less insecure.

Unfortunately, no amount of validation from other people seems to satisfy Greg and Lydia. Every time someone compliments them, they tell themselves that the person is either “too nice” or simply does not know them well enough. Thus, no matter how much they work to feel special in other people’s eyes, they are never satisfied.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”- John Lennon

Most of the time, our lives do not unfold according to our desired script. The fantasy of having one’s dreams come true is rooted in the illusion that we know what will make us happy and how to make it happen. But so much of our experience is out of awareness— as human beings we are not conscious of the full range of our thoughts and feelings. This is just the way we are put together.

And so many of us repeatedly discover that the jobs and people that seemed such a perfect match on paper turn out to be much less appealing in reality. At the same time, we are often surprised when the activities and people that we weren’t expecting to enjoy, bring us happiness and fulfillment. Our job is to look within—to cultivate relationships and experiences that might make us happy, even if they do not look fabulous or prestigious from the outside.

Trust your own internal compass

It is hardly a coincidence that after searching for happiness and love far and wide, protagonists of so many myths and fairy tales invariably find what they’ve been looking for in their own backyard. We seem instinctively drawn to people who share our values and who appreciate us despite our foibles. Similarly, following our natural talents and interests often leads us to discover our true calling. Together, rewarding work, love, and friendships make a recipe for a good life in and beyond the New Year.

Instead of wishing for things that sound good but may or may not make you happy, let’s focus on the essentials: health, love, friendship, meaningful work, and fun adventures. Happy New Year!
Im a Fan of Good Men
Originally Published: Psychology Today
Photo: Pixabay


About Max Belkin

Max Belkin, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst. He is a graduate of NYU and the William Alanson White Institute and serves on the editorial board of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. He teaches graduate courses in couples counseling and individual psychotherapy at NYU. He works with individuals and couples in his private offices in Greenwich Village, New York City, and in Atlantic Highlands, NJ.

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