It all starts with an extremely common (totally false) phrase we too often say or think: “I’d be happy if…” and we fill in the blank with some situation, fortune, or change. This seems to be a fairly common human belief—I’m guilty of this too, but its normalcy in society does not make it true.
Our happiness is not dependent on the situations that surround us. True, real, authentic joy comes from within us when we accept our hardships and triumphs, honor our strength and survival, and are grateful for the things we do have.
This isn’t to say that our life situation can’t influence our happiness.
When I was still in an abusive situation, the impact severely limited my potential joy. Many other survivors also recognize and acknowledge joy is much farther out of reach while being abused or in the early days of recovery. In a positive example, if someone who’s battled against low income their entire life wins the lottery, they’ll definitely feel happier with the financial stress lifted off their shoulders—but this alone doesn’t determine their level of joy in the long run. It will level out. These situations carry weight, but they alone don’t define exactly how content we are with our lives.
There’s a distinction between joy and happiness.
Happiness, as I define it, is the state of exuberance brought on by positive changes in our lifestyle. So, what is joy?
It is like “baseline happiness,” a feeling which we return to after the positive or negative situation’s influence lessens or wears off. Happiness is subject to external events, joy is our inner state—the part of us that we are fully accountable for no matter the reality of our life situation.
When our joy is greater, our happiness is also greater. When something negative hits us, the higher our level of joy, the more resilience we have against surviving it and even thriving through it. We may not be able to control the ups and downs of the life we live in this world, but we can certainly control how we are affected by this (excluding uncontrolled effects like PTSD after trauma and such).
Our inner joy can be increased in a number of ways. If I was to write them all down, this blog would be longer than a novel, but that’s what my coaching practice, the rest of my blog, and thousands of other self-help books are for. Yet, all of this is meaningless unless we use that one key point I mentioned earlier. So, what is it?
We have to hold ourselves accountable for our joy. We have to know it’s on us and us alone to increase our true and deep baseline happiness. It’s not on our partner, family, pet, bank account, or our therapist.
That’s why I mentioned the phrase “I’d be happy if…” earlier. It’s the number one way we delegate this responsibility onto something or someone else.
So how do we start holding ourselves accountable?
One of the best solutions I’ve found is pretty radical: say you’re happy with your current situation.
Now, before you close this website, hear me out.
I’ve mentioned that I have a chronic illness, PTSD from surviving abuse, and have spent a lot of time unsure if I could pay my bills. These factors were hard, but I told myself for months “I’d be happy if I could just forget the abuse,” “I’d be happy if I wasn’t sick,” “I’d be happier if I didn’t worry about money all the time.” Sure, erasing all of these complications would have made my life a lot smoother, but it didn’t guarantee my joy. After all, there are plenty of people without PTSD, chronic illness, and with well cushioned bank accounts who are anything but happy.
One day, I decided to radically start celebrating what I do have. I even celebrated my PTSD, knowing my body and mind were processing the abuse in the way they knew best. I started saying thanks for all the things I was able to afford, even when my budget was tight.
In only a few days of doing this, my whole perspective changed. I realized that I had the power to increase how happy I was, even without my situation changing at all. It was possible to be consistently joyous, even through hardship. I changed my “I can be happy if…” to an “I can be happy even with…”
Holding ourselves accountable for our joy means that we don’t let our situation stop us from living the life we want to. Sometimes holding ourselves accountable forces our hand in changing our situation. My first step was getting away from the abuse, for instance. Sometimes it’s as personal as changing our perspective about our situation. Most likely, it’s going to be a combination of both things.
There’s nothing wrong with setting external goals to reduce stressors, like by getting a new job, working through past trauma, and so on. In fact, these are incredibly important and we’re accountable for these too. But, it’s essential we also remember joy is something we can increase even when we’re struggling with stressful things. Everyone has the potential to be genuinely joyous with life, even if their life is hard.
This message brought me a lot of hope, and it’s what founded my entire coaching practice. I felt liberated and amazing once I realized I didn’t need to be healed or recovered from PTSD to live a great life. It’s this message of hope I want to bring you too. The first step to make this change in your life is to hold yourself responsible for it.
Brainstorm today some ways you can take control of your happiness. Notice how you excuse your joy onto situations and other people. Claim your right to feeling great!
So take this first step: share in the comments what your number one “I’d be happy if…” excuse is right now? What happens when you change it to “I can be happy even with…”? How does this new phrase feel?